Autophagy and cancer therapy

Cancer Biol Ther. 2011 Jan 15;11(2):127-37. doi: 10.4161/cbt.11.2.14627. Epub 2011 Jan 15.


Although autophagy has been shown to have a clear role as a tumor suppressor mechanism, its role in cancer treatment is still controversial. Because autophagy is a survival pathway activated during nutrient deprivation and other stresses, it is reasonable to think that autophagy can function as a tumor cell survival mechanism activated after cancer treatment. Such a mechanism could be widely important because most cancer treatments induce autophagy in tumor cells. Indeed, many papers have presented data suggesting that tumor cell autophagy induced by anti-cancer treatment inhibits tumor cell killing. However, it has also been proposed that autophagy is a cell death mechanism that could function as a backup when apoptosis is disabled. The fact that there are active clinical trials in patients both using autophagy inhibitors or inducers together with other cancer treatments underscores the importance of understanding and distinguishing between these opposing ideas. Here we discuss some of the recent work studying the role of autophagy with different cancer therapies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis
  • Autophagy / physiology*
  • Cell Survival
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / pathology