Cervical cancer is a relatively uncommon cause of neoplastic death in
the United States, with declines over the past decade in both
incidence and mortality. Estimates indicate that in 1998, 13,700
cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed in the United States, and
4,900 women will die of this disease. Despite US declines in its
incidence and mortality, cervical cancer remains a significant world
health problem, and in several developing countries it is the leading cancer.
The majority of cervical malignancies are squamous cell in origin and
are thought to progress in an orderly fashion, from mild to severe
dysplasia with eventual invasion of local tissues. Aside from
invasion of organs in proximity to the cervix, the disease also
progresses via the pelvic lymph nodes to the para-aortic and
mediastinal lymph nodes. Visceral metastases usually occur late and
are uncommon at presentation, even in patients with advanced local disease.[3,4]
Treatment focuses on detection and eradication of early or minimally
invasive disease. This is accomplished by regular Papanicolaou smears
with colposcopy, directed biopsies, limited excisions of the cervical
tissue (eg, cone biopsies), and simple hysterectomy. Lesions that are
too invasive or large, however, require more radical therapeutic approaches.
The management of invasive disease depends on the bulk of the lesion
and the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO)
clinical stage (Table 1).
Surgery or radiotherapy may be offered to patients with invasive
stage I through stage IIA disease. The typical surgical procedure
consists of radical hysterectomy and bilateral lymphadenectomy.
Radiotherapy generally involves a combination of external-beam and
intracavitary techniques. Advanced disease is usually treated with
radiotherapy. The outcomes of treatment according to clinical stage
are presented in Table 2.
Improving outcomes in patients with stage II disease or greater
remains a major problem. The issues are twofold. First, there is a
need for strategies that are additive to radiotherapy in order to
improve local control of the malignancy. Aside from providing a
greater frequency of cure, ideally these strategies would reduce the
significant radiation-related morbidity, such as fistulae and pain. A
second issue is the eradication of visceral disease. Distant failure
is still a component in the majority of advanced disease relapses.
Effective systemic therapy could be applied in the neoadjuvant and
Chemotherapy for refractory cervical cancer has an extensive history.
Several conclusions may be drawn from the historical experience.
Single-agent studies with positive results have approximately the
same response rates of 15% to 30% with rare complete responses (Table
3). Cisplatin (Platinol) is considered to be the most active
Patients with recurrences in the radiated field seldom respond to
chemotherapeutic drugs. This is theoretically attributed to the lower
sensitivity of hypoxic tissues to the drugs. Patients in renal
failure or those with poor performance status rarely benefit from chemotherapy.
Numerous trials have assessed combination chemotherapy in patients
with cervical cancer. High response rates were documented even in
patients who had received prior radiotherapy (Table
4). The durability of responses was distressingly short,
however, lasting only a few months. Furthermore, when randomized
trials were performed comparing single-agent to combination therapy,
the results did not favor the combinations (Table
5). In these trials, neoadjuvant combination chemotherapy,
usually cisplatin-based regimens, before radiation therapy again
yielded high response rates but did not improve overall survival (Table
The use of concurrent radiotherapy and cisplatin-based therapy is
being studied, and results of randomized trials will soon be reported.
In summary, current systemic chemotherapy is associated with
significant clinical response rates. However, these are seldom
complete and are usually of short duration. Unfortunately, there has
been no proof of survival prolongation, palliative benefits, or
quality-of-life improvements with these therapies. Thus, there is a
significant need for newer approaches.
Topoisomerase inhibitors are nuclear enzymes with a multiplicity of
cellular functions. Topoisomerase I induces single-strand DNA breaks
that allow uncoiling and torsion relief in front of the DNA
replication fork.[5-7] Camptothecin, an alkaloid from the leaves of
the Chinese tree Camptotheca acuminata (Nyssaceae) is the
parent compound of irinotecan (CPT-11 [Camptosar]). The latter is
a water-soluble derivative of camptothecin. SN-38, the active
metabolite of irinotecan, is dependent on the concentration of the
closed lactone ring, which is pH dependent.
The pharmacokinetics of irinotecan are linear, with a biphasic or
triphasic curve and a mean half-life of 10 hours. The
pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of the active metabolite SN-38
are complex and differ from those of irinotecan.[9-11]
Preclinical screening demonstrated the activity of irinotecan in
several models. Using a subrenal capsule assay, the two tested
cervical cell lines showed growth suppressive effects of >
50%. It is of interest that SN-38 augmented the activity of
cisplatin, fluorouracil, and etoposide in HST-1, a human squamous
cell carcinoma cell line. This may result from inhibition of the
removal of cisplatin adducts.
Irinotecan appears to have radiosensitizing properties in small-cell
and adenocarcinoma lung cancer cell lines.[15,16] The addition of
recombinant tumor necrosis factor (rh-TNF) and irinotecan to several
gynecologic cancer cell lines demonstrated synergy. Curiously,
caffeine also enhanced the growth inhibition rate of cisplatin plus
irinotecan in various gynecologic cell lines.
Five clinical trials have assessed irinotecan as a single agent in
cervical cancer. The first phase II trial in the United States used a
schedule of 125 mg/m²/wk for 4 weeks followed by a 2-week rest.
A total of 42 patients (median age, 44 years; range, 24 to 59 years)
who had not responded to prior chemotherapy were treated with a
median of 2 cycles of irinotecan (range, 1 to 14). Irinotecan
produced a response rate of 21%, with a median time to response of 6
weeks and a response duration of 12 weeks.
The major dose-limiting side effects were nausea and vomiting (45%),
diarrhea (24%), and myelosuppression (36%). Myelosuppression did not
decrease with dose reduction, whereas gastrointestinal side effects
did. The investigators concluded that irinotecans clinical
activity was significant and warranted further investigation, but
that hematologic and gastrointestinal sequelae were problematic.
The second US trial, conducted by the Gynecologic Oncology Group
(GOG), enrolled 54 patients with recurrent or refractory cervical
cancer. Most of these patients had received prior radiotherapy, and
12 had also received chemotherapy. Among 45 evaluable patients, there
were 6 (13.9%) responses, 1 of which was complete. Gastrointestinal
toxicity was grade 3 or 4 in 19 (39%) of patients. The authors
concluded that the drug had modest activity with moderate toxicity
and should be combined with cisplatin for future study.
The European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer
(EORTC) conducted a trial of irinotecan as primary chemotherapy in
patients with cervical cancer. Patients were stratified according to
whether they had measurable disease outside of a previously
irradiated area (group A) or within the irradiated area (group B).
The dose of irinotecan was 350 mg/m² given every 3 weeks. Five
(24%) responses occurred in group A, as compared with none in group
B. The overall response rate was 15%, and the duration of response
was 6+ months. There were two deaths secondary to myelosuppression,
diarrhea, and dehydration, however. Further studies were recommend-
ed to better define the gastrointestinal side effects of irinotecan.[21,22]
The Japanese have had extensive experience with irinotecan in
gynecologic cancer. One study used a schedule of 100 mg/m²
weekly for four doses. Among 24 patients enrolled in this study, 5
(21%) responded. Another 31 patients were treated with a schedule of
150 mg/m² of irinotecan every 2 weeks for three doses. Eight
(26%) patients responded. It is notable that the majority of patients
in both groups had received prior radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
An analysis of toxicity in the Japanese studies, which included the
results of Takeuchi et al, showed that myelosuppression and
gastrointestinal side effects were significant and deaths were
reported. No recommendation was made regarding further study.[24-26]
Irinotecan has not been extensively studied in combination with other
agents in the treatment of cervical cancer. Noda et al evaluated the
combination of irinotecan and cisplatin. Irinotecan was given on days
1, 8, and 15, and cisplatin was administered on day 1 only. Cycles
were repeated every 29 days. The recommended doses were 60 mg/m²
of cisplatin and 60 mg/m² of irinotecan. Of 12 patients treated,
6 had major responses. A phase II trial of this combination is under
way.[K. Terada, personal communication, August 29, 1997]
The topoisomerase I inhibitors have not been extensively studied in
cervical cancer (Table 7).
Irinotecan demonstrates definite, but modest, single-agent activity.
The drug produces patterns of response similar to those seen in
previous studies, ie, relatively low response rates in irradiated
areas and in patients with poor performance status. Most
investigators recommend that future studies focus on the combination
of irinotecan and cisplatin.
Laboratory data show potentially interesting interactions of
irinotecan with radiotherapy and cytokines. Such findings need
further refinement and the performance of correlative clinical studies.
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