The concept of tumour hypoxia as a cause of radiation resistance has been prevalent for over 100 years. During this time, our understanding of tumour hypoxia has matured with the recognition that oxygen tension within a tumour is influenced by both diffusion and perfusion mechanisms. In parallel, clinical strategies to modify tumour hypoxia with the expectation that this will improve response to radiation have been developed and tested in clinical trials. Despite many disappointments, meta-analysis of the data on hypoxia modification confirms a significant impact on both tumour control and survival. Early trials evaluated hyperbaric oxygen followed by a generation of studies testing oxygen mimetics such as misonidazole, pimonidazole and etanidazole. One highly significant result stands out from the use of nimorazole in advanced laryngeal cancer with a significant advantage seen for locoregional control using this radiosensitiser. More recent studies have evaluated carbogen and nicotinamide targeting both diffusion related and perfusion related hypoxia. A significant survival advantage is seen in muscle invasive bladder cancer and also for locoregional control in hypopharygeal cancer associated with a low haemoglobin. New developments include the recognition that mitochondrial complex inhibitors reducing tumour oxygen consumption are potential radiosensitising agents and atovaquone is currently in clinical trials. One shortcoming of past hypoxia modifying trials is the failure to identify oxygenation status and select those patient with significant hypoxia. A range of biomarkers are now available including histological necrosis, immunohistochemical intrinsic markers such as CAIX and Glut 1 and hypoxia gene signatures which have been shown to predict outcome and will inform the next generation of hypoxia modifying clinical trials.
The British journal of radiology. 2018 Jul 06 [Epub ahead of print]
Hannah Tharmalingham, Peter Hoskin
1 Mount Vernon Cancer Centre , Northwood , UK.