Progress in cancer chemoprevention

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1999;889:1-13. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1999.tb08718.x.


More than 40 promising agents and agent combinations are being evaluated clinically as chemopreventive drugs for major cancer targets. A few have been in vanguard, large-scale intervention trials--for example, the studies of tamoxifen and fenretinide in breast, 13-cis-retinoic acid in head and neck, vitamin E and selenium in prostate, and calcium in colon. These and other agents are currently in phase II chemoprevention trials to establish the scope of their chemopreventive efficacy and to develop intermediate biomarkers as surrogate end points for cancer incidence in future studies. In this group are fenretinide, 2-difluoromethylornithine, and oltipraz. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAID) are also in this group because of their colon cancer chemopreventive effects in clinical intervention, epidemiological, and animal studies. New agents are continually considered for development as chemopreventive drugs. Preventive strategies with antiandrogens are evolving for prostate cancer. Anti-inflammatories that selectively inhibit inducible cyclooxygenase (COX)-2 are being investigated in colon as alternatives to the NSAID, which inhibit both COX-1 and COX-2 and derive their toxicity from COX-1 inhibition. Newer retinoids with reduced toxicity, increased efficacy, or both (e.g., 9-cis-retinoic acid) are being investigated. Promising chemopreventive drugs are also being developed from dietary substances (e.g., green and black tea polyphenols, soy isoflavones, curcumin, phenethyl isothiocyanate, sulforaphane, lycopene, indole-3-carbinol, perillyl alcohol). Basic and translational research necessary to progress in chemopreventive agent development includes, for example, (1) molecular and genomic biomarkers that can be used for risk assessment and as surrogate end points in clinical studies, (2) animal carcinogenesis models that mimic human disease (including transgenic and gene knockout mice), and (3) novel agent treatment regimens (e.g., local delivery to cancer targets, agent combinations, and pharmacodynamically guided dosing).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / prevention & control
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / pathology
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / prevention & control


  • Antineoplastic Agents