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Nicola Normanno and William J Gullick

The paper by Angelucci et al. published in the current issue of Endocrine-Related Cancer suggests a potential, novel application of epidermal growth factor receptor-tyrosine kinase inhibitors (EGFR-TKIs) in the treatment of bone metastases. Interestingly, activity of anti-EGFR agents on the pathogenesis and progression of bone metastases has been described in previous reports, and a number of different mechanisms seem to be involved in this phenomenon. Anti-EGFR agents have a direct activity on tumour cells in which they produce growth inhibition, apoptosis, and reduced invasive capacity through the inhibition of molecules associated with tissue invasion such as urokinase-type plasminogen activator (uPA) and matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-9. In addition, these compounds have an anti-angiogenic activity, either direct by affecting the proliferation and survival of endothelial cells, or indirect by blocking the production of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in bone marrow stromal cells and in tumour cells. Finally, EGFR-TKIs can inhibit recruitment of osteoclasts in bone lesions, by affecting the ability of bone marrow stromal cells to induce osteoclast differentiation and activation. Taken together, these findings strongly support prospective clinical trials of anti-EGFR agents in cancer patients with bone metastases in order to define their role in the management of bone disease.

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Nicola Normanno, Massimo Di Maio, Ermelinda De Maio, Antonella De Luca, Andrea de Matteis, Antonio Giordano, and Francesco Perrone

Tamoxifen has been the mainstay of hormonal therapy in both early and advanced breast cancer patients for approximately three decades. The availability of novel compounds such as aromatase inhibitors (AIs) and fulvestrant, with different mechanism of action, is changing the scenario of endocrine treatment of postmenopausal breast cancer patients. In this review article, we have summarized the current knowledge of the mechanisms of resistance to endocrine therapy, in order to derive information that might be useful for therapeutic intervention. We propose that resistance to endocrine therapy is a progressive, step-wise phenomenon induced by the selective pressure of hormonal agents, which leads breast cancer cells from an estrogen-dependent, responsive to endocrine manipulation phenotype to a non-responsive phenotype, and eventually to an estrogen-independent phenotype. In particular, evidence suggests for each ‘action’ introduced to block estrogen stimulation of breast cancer cells (i.e. treatment with anti-estrogen), there are one or more corresponding ‘reactions’ that tumor cells can use to escape our attempts to block their growth: estrogen hypersensitivity associated with increased transcriptional activity of estrogen receptor α (ERα) and/or increased non-genomic activity of ERα, estrogen supersensitivity, increased growth factor signaling, suppression of ERα expression and finally estrogen independence. Activation of growth factor signaling is involved in each step of this phenomenon, and might ultimately substitute estrogen in sustaining the growth and the survival of breast cancer cells. In this respect, results of pre-clinical and clinical studies with AIs, fulvestrant and signaling inhibitors sustain this hypothesis. More importantly, the knowledge of the mechanisms involved in the resistance of breast cancer cells to endocrine therapy offers potential for novel therapeutic strategies.

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Nicola Normanno, Alessandro Morabito, Antonella De Luca, Maria Carmela Piccirillo, Marianna Gallo, Monica R Maiello, and Francesco Perrone

Identification of molecular alterations in key proteins involved in breast cancer cell proliferation and survival resulted in the development of a new treatment strategy with target-based agents. The anti-ErbB-2 monoclonal antibody (mAb) trastuzumab and the dual epidermal growth factor receptor/ErbB-2 tyrosine kinase inhibitor lapatinib are effective in patients with breast cancer that overexpresses ErbB-2. The anti-vascular endothelial growth factor-A mAb bevacizumab is approved in combination with taxanes for treatment of unselected patients with metastatic breast cancer. In addition, preclinical data suggest that signaling inhibitors can prevent or overcome resistance to endocrine therapy in estrogen receptor positive (ER+) breast cancer. However, the majority of signaling inhibitors explored in breast cancer patients has shown little activity, at least when used as monotherapy; and the results of clinical trials in ER+ breast cancer of combinations of signaling inhibitors and endocrine therapies are rather disappointing. Negative findings are likely due to mechanisms of intrinsic or acquired resistance to target-based agents. Breast carcinoma is a complex and heterogeneous disease and several different molecular alterations are involved in its pathogenesis and progression. The redundancy of oncogenic pathways activated in cancer cells, the heterogeneity of the mechanisms of resistance, and the plasticity of tumor cells that are capable to adapt to different growth conditions, significantly hamper the efficacy of each signaling inhibitor in breast cancer. Therefore, a comprehensive approach that takes into account the complexity of the disease is definitely required to improve the efficacy of target-based therapy in breast cancer.