ASCO 2013: Drug prolongs colorectal cancer survival (VIDEO)

June 2, 2013 | by Hiu Chung So


Metastatic colorectal cancer generally comes with a grim prognosis; only 6 percent of patients will survive five years past their diagnosis. But research unveiled at the 2013 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting offers some positive news for these patients.


The findings come from the Germany-based "FIRE-3" study. In the trial, 592 people with metastatic colorectal cancer took either cetuximab (Erbitux), which slows the growth of cancer cells, or bevacizumab (Avastin), which stops the formation of blood vessels that feed the  tumors. Both drugs were given in addition to a chemotherapy combo.

The authors found that, although progression-free survival was identical for both drugs, the patients taking cetuximab showed a significant improvement in overall survival (28.7 months versus 25 months). Additionally, among the 526  those who had undergone post-benchmark imaging, the cetuximab group had a better response to the therapy as well.

"We suspected that cetuximab would produce a better response, but we didn’t know this would translate into better survival,” said lead author Volker Heinemann, M.D., Ph.D., reporting the results at an ASCO briefing and in a subsequent press release.

Joseph Kim, M.D., associate professor in City of Hope's Department of Surgery, shared his thoughts about the study in the video above.{C}

"I think people would be a little surprised to see there is a difference between the two in favor of  ... cetuximab," Kim said.

The findings apply only to colorectal cancer patients with a nonmutated KRAS gene; those with a mutated variation respond poorly to cetuximab and other drugs that target epidermal growth factor receptor, Kim said. On the other hand,  bevacizumab's impact seems to be unaffected by the presence of a mutated KRAS gene.

More research is needed, experts agreed, and indeed, another clinical trial is underway in the United States comparing the two drugs. In the meantime, Kim suggests, patients should see clinicians who specialize in treating advanced colorectal cancer.

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