Colorectal Cancer: Latest Research

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 06/2016

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about the scientific research being done now to learn more about this type of cancer and how to treat it. To see other pages, use the menu.

Doctors are working to learn more about colorectal cancer, ways to prevent it, how to best treat it, and how to provide the best care to people diagnosed with this disease. The following areas of research may include new options for patients through clinical trials. Always talk with your doctor about the diagnostic and treatment options best for you.

  • Improved detection methods. Researchers are developing tests to analyze stool samples to find genetic changes associated with colorectal cancer. By finding and removing polyps or identifying cancer early, doctors have a better chance of curing the disease.

  • Tests to predict the risk of cancer recurrence. Various genes play important roles in the growth and spread of tumors. Tests to identify these genes can help doctors and patients decide whether to use chemotherapy after treatment. Researchers hope that these tests can help people with a lower risk of recurrence avoid the side effects of additional treatment.

  • Immunotherapy. Immunotherapy, also called biologic therapy, is designed to boost the body's natural defenses to fight the cancer. It uses materials made either by the body or in a laboratory to improve, target, or restore immune system function. In the past several years, researchers have discovered a class of drugs that target the ways that tumor cells avoid the immune system. These drugs are called checkpoint inhibitors.

    The latest research has shown that certain checkpoint inhibitors, called PD-1 or PD-L1 inhibitors, can be effective against a type of metastatic colorectal cancer that is microsatellite high (MSI-H). Clinical trials are still going to confirm these results. People who are screened for hereditary colorectal cancer are also often tested for microsatellite instability. But it also can be tested for to see if someone can enter a clinical trial for checkpoint inhibitors. There are also clinical trials looking at combining checkpoint inhibitors with other drugs or cancer-directed treatments to see if they can be helpful in tumors that are not MSI-H.

  • New drugs. Many new drugs are being tested for colorectal cancer, including advanced colon and rectal cancers. New types of chemotherapy and targeted therapy are being studied. Most are only available through clinical trials.

  • Palliative care. Clinical trials are underway to find better ways of reducing symptoms and side effects of current colorectal cancer treatments in order to improve patients’ comfort and quality of life.

Looking for More About the Latest Research?

If you would like additional information about the latest areas of research regarding colorectal cancer, explore these related items that take you outside of this guide:

The next section in this guide is Coping with Treatment. It offers some guidance in how to cope with the physical, emotional, and social changes that cancer and its treatment can bring. Or, use the menu to choose another section to continue reading this guide.