Advances in Colorectal Cancer Treatment From the 2015 Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium

January 13, 2015
Amber Bauer, ASCO staff

Health care professionals and researchers from around the world will be gathering in San Francisco, California, this weekend to discuss the latest advances in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of gastrointestinal (GI) cancers at the 2015 GI Cancers Symposium. More than 800 abstracts will be presented at the meeting, highlighting research into cancers of the colon/rectum, stomach, pancreas, esophagus, small intestine, and anus.

Two of these studies looked at combining chemotherapy and targeted therapy for metastatic colorectal cancer. One study compared two different chemotherapy regimens (combinations of drugs) plus the targeted therapy drug bevacizumab (Avastin) as initial treatment for metastatic colorectal cancer. In the other study, researchers looked at adding the targeted therapy ramucirumab (Cyramza) to standard chemotherapy for patients with metastatic colorectal cancer that had gotten worse after initial treatment. The researchers found that both the newer approach to chemotherapy and the new targeted therapy helped patients with metastatic colorectal cancer live longer. These studies highlight potential new options for patients with metastatic colorectal cancer whether they are first diagnosed and receiving initial treatment or have had the disease worsen during treatment.

A third study that will be highlighted at the meeting suggests that people with rectal cancer who have no signs of cancer after receiving both chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be able to safely postpone or not have surgery. This could help many patients avoid the risks of rectal cancer surgery, which can include bowel problems and decreased sexual function.

“We believe that our results will encourage more doctors to consider this watch-and-wait approach as an alternative to immediate rectal surgery, at least for some patients,” said senior study author Philip Paty, MD, a surgical oncologist at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. “From my experience, most patients are willing to accept some risk to defer rectal surgery in hope of avoiding major surgery and preserving rectal function.”

It is important to talk about all of your treatment options with your doctor. Discussing the risks and benefits of each option and how any side effects can be managed can help you and your doctor choose the most appropriate treatment plan for your situation.