Cyclooxygenase-2 as a target for anticancer drug development

Crit Rev Oncol Hematol. 2006 Jul;59(1):51-64. doi: 10.1016/j.critrevonc.2006.01.003. Epub 2006 Mar 13.


The two isoforms cyclooxygenase-1 and -2 catalyze the initial step in the formation of prostaglandins in a variety of pathophysiological processes. More recently their role in carcinogenesis has become more evident. They seem to influence apoptosis, angiogenesis, and invasion, and play a role in the production of carcinogens. Usually, a high level of COX-2 expression is found in cancer cells. However, low COX-2 expression is observed in some cancers like prostate or breast cancer. This phenomenon is quite surprising and should influence on clinical trial designs. Large epidemiological trials studying users and non-users of aspirin have shown that cyclooxygenase (COX) inhibitors and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) could be of benefit against the development and growth of malignancies. Moreover, clinical trials in patients with familial adenomatosis polyposis syndrome have shown too the efficacy of non-selective COX inhibitors and recently also of selective COX-2 inhibitors in the reduction of the number and the size of colorectal polyps. However, a primary chemopreventive effect has not been demonstrated yet. NSAIDs are also supposed to have a preventive and growth inhibitory effect in extra-colonic epithelial malignancies. Several preclinical studies show promising results with combination treatments of either chemotherapy or radiotherapy with COX inhibitors. Preclinical studies with the simultaneous use of inhibitors of the epidermal growth factor receptor and COX-2 inhibitors have shown also promising results. Encouraging results with the first clinical trials combining chemotherapy with COX-2 inhibitors in patients with cancer in the advanced and neoadjuvant setting have recently been reported. However, NSAIDs effects in cancer cells are mediated not only by COX enzymes but also by interactions with downstream effectors of COX-2. Hence, we can state that targeting the COX-2 pathway is a promising strategy in the prevention and treatment of solid tumors. Ongoing trials are expected to answer - at least partly - the remaining questions concerning COX-2 and cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cyclooxygenase 2 / drug effects*
  • Cyclooxygenase Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Cyclooxygenase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Drug Design*
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / enzymology


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Cyclooxygenase Inhibitors
  • Cyclooxygenase 2