The expression and activity of different channel types mark and regulate specific stages of cancer establishment and progression. Blocking channel activity impairs the growth of some tumors, both in vitro
and in vivo
, which opens a new field for pharmaceutical research. However, ion channel blockers may produce serious side effects, such as cardiac arrhythmias. For instance, Kv
11.1 (hERG1) channels are aberrantly expressed in several human cancers, in which they control different aspects of the neoplastic cell behaviour. hERG1 blockers tend to inhibit cancer growth. However they also retard the cardiac repolarization, thus lengthening the electrocardiographic QT interval, which can lead to life-threatening ventricular arrhythmias. Several possibilities exist to produce less harmful compounds, such as developing specific drugs that bind hERG1 channels in the open state or disassemble the ion channel/integrin complex which appears to be crucial in certain stages of neoplastic progression. The potential approaches to improve the efficacy and safety of ion channel targeting in oncology include: (1) targeting specific conformational channel states; (2) finding ever more specific inhibitors, including peptide toxins, for channel subtypes mainly expressed in well-identified tumors; (3) using specific ligands to convey traceable or cytotoxic compounds; (4) developing channel blocking antibodies; (5) designing new molecular tools to decrease channel expression in selected cancer types. Similar concepts apply to ion transporters such as the Na+
pump and the Na+
exchanger. Pharmacological targeting of these transporters is also currently being considered in anti-neoplastic therapy.