Nitrosoureas: a review of experimental antitumor activity

Cancer Treat Rep. 1976 Jun;60(6):665-98.


The chemical class of drugs known as the nitrosoureas are a recently developed group of very active alkylating-agent anticancer drugs which are best represented by BCNU, CCNU, and methyl-CCNU (meCCNU). The nitrosoureas are among the most active, if not the most active, anticancer drugs both quantitatively (log kill of sensitive tumor cells in vivo) and qualitatively (spectrum of mouse, rat, and hamster tumors responding to treatment). Therapeutic anticancer activity of the nitrosoureas has been consistently observed with oral as well as parenteral administration. The nitrosoureas are clearly the most active group of anticancer drugs observed against experimental meningeal leukemias and intracerebrally implanted transplantable primary tumors of central nervous system origin (eg, gliomas, ependymoblastomas, and astrocytomas in mice and hamsters). The nitrosoureas have been observed to be less than additive in lethal toxicity for vital normal cells in the mouse in combination with representatives of the other major classes of anticancer agents, eg, purine antagonists, pyrimidine antagonists, inhibitors of DNA polymerase(s) or ribonucleotide reductase(s), mitotic inhibitors, drugs that bind to or intercalate with DNA, and other alkylating agents. Therapeutic synergism against one or more transplantable or spontaneous tumors of mice, rats, or hamsters with one of several nitrosoureas in two-drug combinations with representatives of most of the major classes of anticancer agents listed above has been reported. With a number of advanced-stages mouse tumors, generally considered to be refractory to treatment with most anticancer agents, long-term cures have been obtained with combination-drug or combined-modality (surgery plus chemotherapy) treatment. The demonstrated lack of cross-resistance of several leukemias and solid tumors of mice selected for resistance to BCNU, meCCNU, or other alkylating agents suggests that the widely held opinion that all alkylating agents are very similar in biologic mechanism of action, and therefore resistance to one alkylating agent probably predicts cross-resistance to all alkylating agents, may no longer be tenable. If not, then alkylating-agent drug combinations, either used alone or combined with other treatment modalities (eg, surgery) which have been reported to result in therapeutic improvement in a number of experimental murine tumor systems, may be indicated for serious consideration as surgical adjuvant chemotherapy by surgeons or as primary therapy by medical oncologists.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carmustine / administration & dosage
  • Carmustine / adverse effects
  • Carmustine / therapeutic use
  • Colonic Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical
  • Drug Resistance
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Leukemia L1210 / drug therapy
  • Lomustine / administration & dosage
  • Lomustine / adverse effects
  • Lomustine / therapeutic use
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Experimental / drug therapy
  • Melanoma / drug therapy
  • Methylnitronitrosoguanidine / therapeutic use
  • Methylnitrosourea / therapeutic use
  • Mice
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / surgery
  • Nitrosourea Compounds / therapeutic use*
  • Semustine / administration & dosage
  • Semustine / adverse effects
  • Semustine / therapeutic use


  • Nitrosourea Compounds
  • Methylnitronitrosoguanidine
  • Semustine
  • Methylnitrosourea
  • Lomustine
  • Carmustine