Combination Therapy in Cancer


There has been a dramatic increase in the number of treatment approaches that can be used to manage patients with cancer. They range from those that are conventionally cytotoxic in nature to those that have been specifically designed with a particular target in mind. Although these ‘intelligent’ drugs successfully perform their intended function, their action can be more diverse than first anticipated. This is often the case with more conventional chemotherapies, where secondary effects are overlooked as the focus is rightly on the principal effect. For example, in addition to its more classic cytotoxic effect, gemcitabine is capable of increasing the antigenicity of tumours, causing them to become more visible to the immune system. It is this continued search for novel ways to exploit drugs that are already available that will increase the pool of treatment options available to patients.

Key Concepts

  • Pairing up treatment modalities can enhance the overall effect of each drug.
  • Certain immune therapies support chemotherapy.
  • Targeting multiple signalling pathways in cancer cells can improve overall activity.
  • Altering the tumour phenotype to restore visibility to the immune system can be achieved through the use of certain chemotherapy.
  • The sequence that drugs are given can affect overall drug combination efficacy.

Keywords: combination therapy; chemotherapy; immune therapy; drug schedule; sequence


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Liu, Wai M, Scott, Katherine A, and Dalgleish, Angus G(Apr 2016) Combination Therapy in Cancer. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0026247]