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Survival rates for metastatic colon cancer much improved

May 26, 2009 |  3:30 pm

ColonColorectal cancer that has spread from the primary tumor site to other areas of the body, called metastatic disease, has long been considered a disease with a poor prognosis. But an analysis of survival statistics show that the outlook for patients with advanced colon cancer has greatly improved. Only 8% of patients survived five years with the disease in 1990 compared with 30% of people diagnosed with the disease after 2004.

The study, published today in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, suggests that new chemotherapy treatments and biological agents, along with improvements in surgery to remove tumors from the liver, have resulted in big gains in survival. The study is the first to examine survival rates for metastatic colorectal cancer in the last 20 years. The authors of the study say median survival is now more than 30 months, compared with eight months for patients diagnosed before 1990.

The study also compared the effects of surgery and chemotherapy on survival rates. Since 2000, more patients undergo surgery to remove parts of the liver invaded by cancer. They found that liver resection surgery led to increased survival statistics, as did the availability of several new cancer medications beginning in 2004.

". . .The degree and rapidity of the improvement is of a magnitude that is rarely seen in metastatic cancers," Dr. Scott Kopetz, an assistant professor at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center's Department of Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology and the study's lead author, said in a news release. "Many of these patients are not necessarily disease-free, but living with their cancer with a high quality of life. For some patients, our goal of making metastatic colorectal cancer a chronic condition is closer to becoming a reality."

Metastatic colorectal cancer remains incurable, the authors note. And more research is needed to find medications to use for patients who have exhausted all of the options available to them.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: The Colossal Colon, top view, is part of the Colossal Colon Tour put together by Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation.