Cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), an inducible prostaglandin synthase, is normally expressed in parts of the kidney and brain. Aberrant COX-2 expression was first reported in colorectal carcinomas and adenomas, and has now been detected in various human cancers, including those of the breast. Strikingly, COX-2 overexpression in murine mammary gland is sufficient to cause tumour formation. To date, the role of COX-2 in tumorigenesis has been most intensively studied in the colon. Thus, the relationship between COX-2 and neoplasia can best be illustrated with reference to intestinal tumorigenesis. Here we consider the potential utility of selective COX-2 inhibitors for the prevention and treatment of breast cancer. Data for cancers of the colon and breast are compared where possible. In addition, the mechanisms by which COX-2 is upregulated in cancers and contributes to tumorigenesis are discussed. Importantly, several recent studies of mammary tumorigenesis in animal models have found selective COX-2 inhibitors to be effective in the prevention and treatment of breast cancer. Clinical trials will be needed to determine whether COX-2 inhibition represents a useful approach to preventing or treating human breast cancer.
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