Esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) is one of most lethal malignancies with high aggressive potential in the world. Radiotherapy is used as one curative treatment modality for ESCC patients. Due to radioresistance, the 5-year survival rates of patients after radiotherapy is less than 20%. Tumor radioresistance is very complex and heterogeneous. Cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs), as one major component of tumor microenvironment (TME), play critical roles in regulating tumor radioresponse through multiple mechanisms and are increasingly considered as important anti-cancer targets. Cancer stemness, which renders cancer cells to be extremely resistant to conventional therapies, is involved in ESCC radioresistance due to the activation of Wnt/β-catenin, Notch, Hedgehog and Hippo (HH) pathways, or the induction of epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), hypoxia and autophagy. Non-protein-coding RNAs (ncRNAs), which account for more than 90% of the genome, are involved in esophageal cancer initiation and progression through regulating the activation or inactivation of downstream signaling pathways and the expressions of target genes. Herein, we mainly reviewed the role of CAFs, cancer stemness, non-coding RNAs as well as others in the development of radioresistance and clarify the involved mechanisms. Furthermore, we summarized the potential strategies which were reported to reverse radioresistance in ESCC. Together, this review gives a systematic coverage of radioresistance mechanisms and reversal strategies and contributes to better understanding of tumor radioresistance for the exploitation of novel intervention strategies in ESCC.
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