The disappointing results in long-term survival of patients who have a resectable non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) may reflect the lack of knowledge on the way by which molecular abnormalities in neoplastic cells affect responsiveness to adjuvant therapy. This issue deserves intensive investigation to select methodological approaches for a new generation of chemotherapeutic strategies. Remarkable advances in the understanding of NSCLC biology have been made, including the discovery of critical mutations in oncogenes (i.e. K-Ras and c-myc), as well as the loss of tumor-suppressor genes, such as TP53, p16(INK4) or Rb. Other studies demonstrated the role of mutations or deregulation of the expression of several molecular determinants involved in cell cycle control such as epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). All these characteristics, as well as alterations in gene products directly related to drug activity, might contribute to the aggressive behaviour of NSCLC. The future challenge of chemotherapy of NSCLC relies on the identification of molecular markers that are predictive of drug sensitivity and are helpful in the selection of chemotherapeutic agents best suited to the individual patient. Other intriguing issues will be the identification of the optimal drug sequence in combination regimens and the pharmacogenetics of severe toxicities. Moreover, due to the developments of novel technologies to decipher genetic alterations involved in tumor progression, new agents are gaining momentum, including inhibitors of intracellular signal transduction, and a large body of research, using prospective clinical trials, should be devoted to this area.
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