Background and purpose: Inhibition of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) is a fastly developing field in preclinical and clinical cancer research. This review presents the current status of knowledge and discusses radiobiological mechanisms which may underly the efficacy of EGFR inhibitors combined with irradiation.
Materials and methods: Preclinical and clinical results on combined targeting of the EGFR and irradiation from the literature and from this laboratory are reviewed. Focus is given to the radiobiological rationale of this approach and to endpoints of experimental radiotherapy.
Results: Overexpression of the EGFR is associated with decreased local tumour control after radiotherapy, especially when the overall treatment time is long. Inhibition of the EGFR either alone or in combination with irradiation decreases the growth rate of tumours expressing this receptor. Preclinical data provide proof-of-principle that local tumour control may be improved by combining irradiation with C225 mAb. In a randomised phase III clinical trial, simultaneous irradiation and treatment with the EGFR antibody Cetuximab (Erbitux; C225) in head and neck cancer patients resulted in significantly improved locoregional tumour control and survival compared to curative irradiation alone. Acute skin reactions increased in the experimental arm. The underlying mechanisms of enhanced radiation effects of combined EGFR inhibition with irradiation and of the partly conflicting results in different studies are poorly understood. There is increasing evidence, that important intertumoral heterogeneity in the response to EGFR inhibition alone and combined with irradiation exists, which appears to be at least partly dependent on specific mutations of the receptor as well as of molecules that are involved in the intracellular signal transduction pathway.
Conclusions and outlook: Further investigations at all levels of the translational research chain exploring the mechanisms of EGFR inhibition in the context of radiotherapy are needed to fully exploit the potential of such combinations and to develop predictive tests that direct their use.