The mechanism by which reactive oxygen species (ROS) are produced by tumour cells remained incompletely understood until the discovery over the last 15 years of the family of NADPH oxidases (NOXs 1–5 and dual oxidases DUOX1/2) which are structural homologues of gp91phox, the major membrane-bound component of the respiratory burst oxidase of leucocytes. Knowledge of the roles of the NOX isoforms in cancer is rapidly expanding. Recent evidence suggests that both NOX1 and DUOX2 species produce ROS in the gastrointestinal tract as a result of chronic inflammatory stress; cytokine induction (by interferon-γ, tumour necrosis factor α, and interleukins IL-4 and IL-13) of NOX1 and DUOX2 may contribute to the development of colorectal and pancreatic carcinomas in patients with inflammatory bowel disease and chronic pancreatitis, respectively. NOX4 expression is increased in pre-malignant fibrotic states which may lead to carcinomas of the lung and liver. NOX5 is highly expressed in malignant melanomas, prostate cancer and Barrett's oesophagus-associated adenocarcinomas, and in the last it is related to chronic gastro-oesophageal reflux and inflammation. Over-expression of functional NOX proteins in many tissues helps to explain tissue injury and DNA damage from ROS that accompany pre-malignant conditions, as well as elucidating the potential mechanisms of NOX-related damage that contribute to both the initiation and the progression of a wide range of solid and haematopoietic malignancies.

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