Advances in Colorectal Cancer
New drugs show promise, but more research needs to be done.
Shrinking Tumors continued...
Like Avastin, Erbitux is a monoclonal antibody. It also blocks the effects of a growth factor, although a different one called epidermal growth factor (EGF), which encourages the development of cancer cells. Unlike traditional chemotherapy, in which toxic drugs don't discriminate between the tumor and healthy cells, Erbitux and Avastin are targeted and cause fewer side effects.
It's important to understand that Erbitux did not lengthen the lives of the people in the study. So the results may seem like modest success at best, and you may wonder at the benefit of shrinking a tumor if it doesn't help someone live longer.
But Mooney points out that this wasn't the trial's purpose.
"The results may seem disappointing, but the study wasn't designed to see if [Erbitux] helps people live longer," she says. Instead, the purpose was to see if the drug worked well enough to merit further trials, which it did.
According to Mooney and Chen, further trials are now under way testing the full potential benefits of the drug. As with the current Avastin trials, the next step is to try Erbitux in people with less advanced colorectal cancer and in combination with other medications.
Focusing on Inflammation
Increasingly, researchers believe that inflammation -- the villain that contributes to heart disease, stroke, and diabetes -- may play a role in colorectal cancer.
In one recent study published in TheJournal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that higher levels of a marker for inflammation -- C-reactive protein, or CRP -- in the blood were associated with an increased risk of colon cancer. After studying the records of 22,000 people, researchers found that people with high levels of CRP were 2.5 times more likely to eventually develop colon cancer than those with low levels.
"We've seen that inflammation is an underlying component of a lot of diseases, including cancer," says Mooney. "The next step is to see whether we can manipulate that mechanism and alter the course of the disease."
Many researchers have looked at using drugs that reduce inflammation, in the hopes that they might cut the risk of colorectal cancer. And there is evidence that using a class of such drugs, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, does just that. This class of drugs includes that humble and trusted resident of everyone's medicine tablet, aspirin.