"Even in people who have gone through six or more previous courses of chemotherapy, cetuximab, may fight the growth of cancer, giving patients additional months of life," says study presenter Heinz-Josef Lenz, M.D., associate professor of medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California and USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Lenz and researchers at five other university medical centers in the United States and Europe offered the phase II trial of cetuximab to patients with metastatic colorectal cancer who had already tried and failed treatment with fluoropyrimidine drugs (such as 5-FU) and the drugs irinotecan and oxaliplatin. Some patients had undergone as many as nine prior courses of chemotherapy.
In all, 346 patients participated, and 12 percent of patients saw their tumors shrink, at least temporarily, in response to the drug. The typical patient survived 6.6 months after treatment.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.S., with nearly 145,300 new cases and nearly 56,300 deaths from the disease expected this year, according to the American Cancer Society. As Lenz explains, the death rate for colorectal cancer has been declining for 15 years because better detection methods are turning up tumors in their early stages, when they can most easily be treated.
The five-year relative survival rate for people whose colorectal cancer is treated in an early stage, before it has spread, is greater than 90 percent. But only 39 percent of colorectal cancers are found at that early stage.
"Unfortunately, treatment for colorectal cancer is much more challenging when the cancer has advanced," says
Contact: Jon Weiner
University of Southern California