The physiology of solid tumors differs from that of normal tissues in a number of important aspects, the majority of which stem from differences between the two vasculatures. Compared with the regular, ordered vasculature of normal tissues, blood vessels in tumors are often highly abnormal, distended capillaries with leaky walls and sluggish flow. Tumor growth also requires continuous new vessel growth, or angiogenesis. These physiological differences can be problems for cancer treatment; for example, hypoxia in solid tumors leads to resistance to radiotherapy and to some anticancer drugs. However, these differences can also be exploited for selective cancer treatment. Here we review four such areas that are under active investigation: (a) hypoxia-selective cytotoxins take advantage of the unique low oxygen tension in the majority of human solid tumors. Tirapazamine, a drug in the final stages of clinical trials, is one of the more promising of these agents; (b) leaky tumor blood vessels can be exploited using liposomes that have been sterically stabilized to have a long intravascular half-life, allowing them to selectively accumulate in solid tumors; (c) the tumor microenvironment is a stimulus to angiogenesis, and inhibition of angiogenesis can be a powerful anticancer therapy not susceptible to acquired drug resistance; and (d) we discuss attempts to use gene therapy activated either by the low oxygen environment or by necrotic regions of tumors.
Supported by USPHS Grants CA 15201, CA 67166 (to J. M. B.), and CA 64489 (to A. J. G.).