Researchers continue to look at new ways to treat, diagnose, and prevent colorectal cancer. Many are testing other types of treatments in clinical trials.
Advances in Treatments
Studies have found that patients who took the drug Avastin™, a targeted chemotherapy drug, with their standard chemotherapy treatment had a longer progression-free survival than those who did not take Avastin, but some studies have indicated that Avastin does not extend life. (The generic name for Avastin is bevacizumab.)
Scientists are also working on vaccines therapies and monoclonal antibodies that may improve how patients' immune systems respond to colorectal cancers. Monoclonal antibodies are a single type of antibody that researchers make in large amounts in a laboratory.
Surgical techniques have reduced the number of patients needing a permanent colostomy. A colostomy is an opening made in the abdomen for waste to pass out of the body before it reaches the rectum. In many cases, the surgeon can reconnect the healthy parts of the colon back together after removing the cancer. This way, the colon can function just as it did before.
The PLCO Trial
The National Cancer Institute's Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial, or PLCO Trial, recently provided results about the role of sigmoidoscopy in reducing deaths from colon and rectal cancers. The PLCO trial, involving 148,000 volunteers aged 55 to 74, compared two groups of people over a 10-year period and found that the group that received sigmoidoscopies had fewer deaths from colorectal cancer than those who did not get a sigmoidoscopy.
NSAIDs and Polyp Formation
Preventing colorectal cancer is a concern of many researchers.
Studies have shown that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can keep large-bowel polyps from forming. Bowel polyps can start out benign, or non-cancerous, but can become cancerous. However, the effects that these drugs have on the heart and other parts of the body is of concern, therefore these drugs should only be used for prevention under a doctor's supervision.
Genes involved in colorectal cancer continue to be identified and understood. Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer, or HNPCC, is one condition that causes people in a certain family to develop colorectal cancer at a young age. The discovery of four genes involved with this disease has provided crucial clues about the role of DNA repair in colorectal and other cancers.
Scientists are continuing to identify genes associated with colon cancers that run in families. Using traditional screening methods on people from families that carry these genes may be another way to identify cancers at an early stage and cut deaths from colorectal cancer. Genetic screening of people at high risk may become more common in the near future
Besides looking at genes in families, researchers in the The Cancer Genome Atlas study looked at the genes of actual colon tumors to better understand the contribution that genes make to cancer. By looking at the genetic composition of the tumor, researchers were able to identify new mutations (changes) in the genes that can lead to cancer, including the genes BRAF and EGRF.