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
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
"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
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,