Compelling experimental and clinical evidence supports the notion that cyclooxygenase-2, the inducible isoform of cyclooxygenase, plays a crucial role in oncogenesis. Clinical and epidemiological data indicate that aberrant regulation of cyclooxygenase-2 in certain solid tumors and hematological malignancies is associated with adverse clinical outcome. Moreover, findings extrapolated from experimental studies in cultured tumor cells and animal tumor models indicate that cyclooxygenase-2 critically influences all stages of tumor development from tumor initiation to tumor progression. Cyclooxygenase-2 elicits cell-autonomous effects on tumor cells resulting in stimulation of growth, increased cell survival, enhanced tumor cell invasiveness, stimulation of neovascularization, and tumor evasion from the host immune system. Additionally, the oncogenic effects of cyclooxygenase-2 stem from its unique ability to impact tumor cell surroundings and create a proinflammatory environment conducive for tumor development, growth and progression. The initial enthusiasm generated by the availability of cyclooxygenase-2 selective inhibitors for cancer prevention and therapy has been lessened by the severe cardiovascular adverse side effects associated with their long-term use, as well as by the mixed results of recent clinical trials evaluating the efficacy of cyclooxygenase-2 inhibitors in adjuvant chemotherapy. Therefore, our ability to efficiently target the oncogenic effects of cyclooxygenase-2 for therapeutic and preventive purposes strictly depends on a better understanding of the spatial and temporal aspects of its activation in tumor cells along with a clearer elucidation of the signaling networks whereby cyclooxygenase-2 affects tumor cells and their interactions with the tumor microenvironment. This knowledge has the potential of leading to the identification of novel cyclooxygenase-2-dependent molecular and signaling networks that can be exploited to improve cancer prevention and therapy.
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