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Less stress, more success? Oncological implications of surgery-induced oxidative stress
  1. D P O'Leary1,2,
  2. J H Wang1,
  3. T G Cotter2,
  4. H P Redmond1
  1. 1Department of Academic Surgery, Cork University Hospital, Cork, Ireland
  2. 2Tumour Biology Laboratory, Department of Biochemistry, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland
  1. Correspondence to D Peter O'Leary, Department of Academic Surgery, Cork University Hospital, Cork, Ireland; donaloleary{at}


Reactive oxygen species (ROS) possess important cell signalling properties. This contradicts traditional thought which associated ROS activity with cell death. Emerging evidence clearly demonstrates that ROS signalling acts as a key regulator in tumour cell survival and in the cellular processes required for tumour cells to successfully metastasise and proliferate. The discovery of the nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH) oxidase (Nox) family of enzymes in the last decade has unravelled much of the mystery surrounding how ROS are generated. Tumour cells are now known to express Nox enzymes which produce ROS required for cellular signalling. Activation of Nox enzymes occurs via interaction with proinflammatory cytokines and growth factors, all of which are released following surgical trauma. As our understanding of the signalling capabilities of ROS grows, the oncological implications of ROS activity are gradually being revealed. Nox-derived ROS are known to play a central role in each step of the metastatic cascade including invasion, adhesion, angiogenesis and proliferation. This article describes how surgery creates a ROS-rich environment, which facilitates redox signalling, and also examines the role played by Nox enzymes in this process. The authors then explore current knowledge of the oncological implications of surgery-induced redox signalling, and discuss current and future therapeutic strategies targeted at ROS and Nox enzymes in cancer patients.

  • Abdominal surgery
  • cancer
  • cancer immunobiology
  • antioxidants
  • cell biology

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.