Capecitabine (N4-pentyloxycarbonyl-5'-deoxy-5-fluorocytidine) is a novel fluoropyrimidine carbamate, which was designed to be sequentially converted to 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) by three enzymes located in the liver and in tumors; the final step is the conversion of 5'-deoxy-5-fluorouridine (5'-DFUR) to 5-FU by thymidine phosphorylase (dThdPase) in tumors. In human cancer xenograft models, capecitabine given orally yielded substantially higher concentrations of 5-FU within tumors than in plasma or normal tissue (muscle). The tumor 5-FU levels were also much higher than those achieved by intravenous administration of 5-FU at equitoxic doses. Capecitabine and its intermediates are not cytotoxic by themselves, but become effective after their conversion to 5-FU. This tumor selective delivery of 5-FU ensured greater efficacy and a more favorable safety profile than with other fluoropyrimidines. In 24 human cancer xenograft models studied, capecitabine was more effective at a wider dose range and had a broader spectrum of antitumor activity than 5-FU, UFT or its intermediate metabolite 5'-DFUR. The susceptibility of the xenografts to capecitabine correlated with tumor dThdPase levels. Moreover, the conversion of 5'-DFUR to 5-FU by dThdPase in tumor was insufficient in a xenograft model refractory to capecitabine. In addition, the efficacy of capecitabine was enhanced by dThdPase up-regulators, such as taxanes and cyclophosphamide. The efficacy of capecitabine may, therefore, be optimized by selecting the most appropriate patient population based on dThdPase status and/or by combining it with dThdPase up-regulators. Capecitabine has additional characteristics not found with 5-FU, such as potent antimetastatic and anticachectic actions in mouse tumor models. With this profile, capecitabine may have substantial potential in cancer treatment.