Chemoprevention trials and surrogate end point biomarkers in the cervix

Cancer. 1995 Nov 15;76(10 Suppl):1956-77. doi: 10.1002/1097-0142(19951115)76:10+<1956::aid-cncr2820761312>;2-v.


Cervical cancer is the second most common malignancy in women worldwide and remains a significant health problem for women, especially minority and underserved women. Despite an understanding of the epidemiologic risks, the screening Papanicolaou smear, and morbid and costly treatment, overall survival remains 40%. New strategies, based on the clinical and molecular aspects of cervical carcinogenesis, are desperately needed. Chemoprevention refers to the use of chemical agents to prevent or delay the development of cancer in healthy populations. Chemoprevention studies have several unique features that distinguish them from classic chemotherapeutic trials; these features touch on several disciplines and weave knowledge of the biology of carcinogenesis into the trial design. In the design of chemoprevention trials, four factors are important: high risk cohorts must be identified; suitable medications must be selected; study designs should include Phases I, II, and III; and studies should include the use of surrogate end point biomarkers. Surrogate end point biomarkers are sought because the cancer develops over a long period of time, and studies of chemopreventives would require a huge number of subjects followed for many years. Surrogate end point biomarkers serve as alternative end points for examination of the efficacy of chemopreventives in tissue. High risk cohorts include women with cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) or squamous intraepithelial lesions (SIL). Nutritional studies have helped define micronutrients of interest (folate, carotenoids, vitamin C, vitamin E). Other medications of interest include retinoids (4-hydroxyphenylretinamide [4-HPR], retinyl acetate gel, topical all-trans-retinoic acid), polyamine synthesis inhibitors (alpha-difluoromethylornithine [DFMO]), and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen). Phase I chemoprevention studies of the cervix have tested retinyl acetate gel and all-trans-retinoic acid. Phase II trials of all-trans-retinoic acid, beta-carotene, and folic acid have been and are being carried out, whereas Phase III trials of all-trans-retinoic acid have been completed and have shown significant regression of CIN 2 but not CIN 3. Phase I studies of DFMO and Phase II studies of DFMO and 4-HPR are underway. Surrogate end point biomarkers under study include (1) quantitative cytology and histopathology; (2) human papillomavirus type testing; (3) biologic measures of proliferation, regulation, differentiation, and genomic instability; and 4) fluorescence spectroscopic emission. Clinical trials with biologic end points will contribute to our understanding of the neoplastic process and hence aid us in developing new preventive and therapeutic strategies.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aneuploidy
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis*
  • Chromosome Aberrations
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Eflornithine / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Retinoids / therapeutic use
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / genetics
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / pathology
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / prevention & control*


  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Retinoids
  • Eflornithine