In the Journal of the American Medical Association, the investigators found that patients who received chemotherapy after surgery to treat their advanced colon cancer had a 16 percent improved benefit in relative five-year survival compared with patients who were not treated with chemotherapy. That means these patients had more than a 30 percent increased chance of being alive five years after treatment.
Women and the elderly given chemotherapy had the same benefit, but were significantly less often treated with chemotherapy, according to the research team, led by J. Milburn Jessup, MD, of both Georgetown University Medical Center and the National Cancer Institute.
He says the study results should alert both community-based oncologists and colon cancer patients that chemotherapy is, for most people, a beneficial treatment.
"Our intent in part is to show that since women and elderly do benefit from adjuvant chemotherapy as much as men or younger patients do, then it will reassure both patients and doctors that it is a good thing to do," said Jessup.
"We really hope that this study will result in having both patients and physicians work together to use adjuvant therapy," he said.
The study is unusual because it looked at whether oncologists in the community followed the treatment recommendations issued in 1990 by a NIH consensus conference. These experts found that all patients with stage III colon cancer should be given chemotherapy (a 5-fluorouracil-based regimen) following surgery because several large randomized phase III clinical trials demonstrated improved survival.