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Longer Survival With Colorectal Cancer Drugs

Some Patients Living Longer, but Jury Is Still Out on Effectiveness

Improving Cure Rates

The second study reported in NEJM included more than 2,200 patients with surgically treated colon cancer who were undergoing chemotherapy. The patients were randomly assigned to receive six months of standard chemotherapy or standard chemotherapy along with the drug Eloxatin.

Three years later, 78% of the patients in the Eloxatin group were alive and free of cancer, compared with 73% of patients treated with standard chemotherapy. The difference was greatest among patients with the most advanced diseases. Cancer-free survival with Eloxatin was 72% among patients whose cancer had spread to their lymph nodes, compared with 65% among patients with cancer in their lymph nodes who were treated with standard chemotherapy.

The lymph nodes are part of the immune system which helps fight infection. Whether the lymph nodes contain cancer cells is an important factor when predicting survival.

He says the available data show that Eloxatin should be added to standard chemotherapy after treatment with surgery in patients who have cancer in multiple lymph nodes and should not be used in patients with no lymph node involvement.

"For patients with one or two lymph nodes involved I think the choice is less clear," he says.

While new therapies offer new hope for curing or extending the lives of colorectal cancer patients, Lichtenfeld says the best hope for saving the most lives still lies in convincing more people to be screened.

"This disease is very treatable when caught early," he tells WebMD.

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