Cancer is a complex disease and cancer cells typically harbor multiple genetic and epigenetic alterations. Large-scale sequencing of patient-derived cancer samples has identified several druggable driver oncogenes. Many of these oncogenes can be pharmacologically targeted to provide effective therapies for breast cancer, leukemia, lung cancer, melanoma, lymphoma, and other cancer types. Initial responses to these agents can be robust in many cancer types and some patients with cancer experience sustained tumor inhibition. However, resistance to these targeted therapeutics frequently emerges, either from intrinsic or acquired mechanisms, posing a major clinical hurdle for effective treatment. Several resistance mechanisms, both cell autonomous and cell nonautonomous, have been identified in different cancer types. Here we describe how alterations of the transcriptome, transcription factors, DNA, and chromatin regulatory proteins confer resistance to targeted therapeutic agents. We also elaborate on how these studies have identified underlying epigenetic factors that drive drug resistance and oncogenic pathways, with direct implications for the prevention and treatment of drug-resistant cancer.

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