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Colorectal Cancer Health Center

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Colon Cancer Survival Has Family Link

Genes That Increase Risk May Improve Prognosis
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 3, 2008 -- Advanced colon cancer patients with a family history of the disease are more likely to be cured with treatment than patients with no family link, new research suggests.

Compared to patients with no family history, those with relatives who've had colorectal cancer were less likely to die or have colorectal cancer recur. And the more relatives they had with a history of colorectal cancer, the better their odds.

The findings suggest that as yet unidentified genetic influences are associated with both an increased risk for developing colorectal cancer and an improved prognosis for surviving the disease, Jennifer A. Chan, MD, PhD, who led the study, tells WebMD.

The study appears in tomorrow's Journal of the American Medical Association.

"This is reassuring for patients with a family history, but it could also be important for treatment," says Chan, who is an instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. "If we are able to identify the factors associated with family risk and improved prognosis, this could help guide treatment decisions in the future."

Greater Risk, Better Survival

As many as one in five colorectal cancer patients have a close family link to the disease, and having a first-degree relative such as a parent, sibling, or child with the cancer is associated with a twofold increase in risk.

While it is clear that family history is an important risk factor for developing colorectal cancer, its influence on recurrence and survival are not well understood.

In their effort to change this, Chan and colleagues from Harvard Medical School and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute followed 1,087 patients with stage III colon cancer who were treated with surgery followed by chemotherapy.

A total of 195 patients (18%) reported a history of colorectal cancer in one or more first-degree relatives.

During an average of 5 1/2 years of follow up, 29% patients with a family history of the disease and 38% of patients with no family history either died of their disease or experienced disease recurrence.

Patients with a family history were 26% less likely to have their disease recur than patients with no afflicted close family members.

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