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Advances in Colorectal Cancer

New drugs show promise, but more research needs to be done.

Keeping Perspective

While all of these new medications and developments are cause for enthusiasm, it's important to realize that there's a lot we don't know. Research breakthroughs may not translate into something that tangibly benefits the average patient until years later, if at all.

For instance, the FDA has only approved Erbitux for people with metastatic colorectal cancer, which is the most advanced and hardest to cure. Only further study will tell how much impact it and other new drugs will have on earlier stages of the disease. For now, Mooney and Chen stress that these medications should not be used in stages of colorectal cancer for which they haven't been approved.

Much of the work for researchers now is to sort out how to best use these new medications. While they may not grab headlines, some of the most important advances may come in the details: tinkering with different dosages, treatment regimens, and combinations of drugs.

But while it's important to guard against over-optimism, there is still a great deal to be encouraged about.

"Within the last few years, there's been tremendous progress," says Mooney. "While none of these treatments are the penicillin for colorectal cancer, they're still important steps forward."

And with time and research, all of these smaller steps may yet add up to something big.

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