Fenretinide or N-(4-hydroxyphenyl)retinamide is a vitamin A analogue synthesized in the United States in the late 1960s. This retinoid shows a preferential accumulation in breast instead of liver, is effective in the inhibition of chemically induced mammary carcinoma in rats, and has proved to be less toxic than many other vitamin A analogues. The Milan Cancer Institute has put a particular effort in this molecule in both the experimental and clinical fields. We have demonstrated, in animals and humans, that fenretinide induces a rapid reduction of retinol plasma concentration, that its blood levels remain constant during administration for as long as 5 years, and that the drug is able to accumulate in the human breast. To date, 2969 stage I breast cancer patients have been randomized to evaluate the efficacy of this retinoid to prevent contralateral new primaries, 709 subjects have been accrued in a prevention trial of basal cell carcinoma of the head and neck, and 153 patients entered a study the preliminary results of which already show the capability of fenretinide to prevent recurrences and new localizations of oral leukoplakia. Further studies on fenretinide will be aimed at evaluating its preventive efficacy in superficial bladder and prostate cancers and at exploring possible synergism with tamoxifen and interferons in breast cancer and skin cancer, respectively.


Presented at the 4th International Conference on Anticarcinogenesis & Radiation Protection, April 18–23, 1993, Baltimore, MD. The 4-HPR study is jointly supported by the National Cancer Institute of Milan, the Italian National Research Council of Rome, and NCI Grant 5UO1CA38567.

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