An experimental new treatment for advanced colon cancer shows promise of saving thousands of lives a year, says a University of Maryland Medical Center physician who has begun clinical trials.
The therapy involves intravenous administration of two standard drugs and a newer drug in a different combination than the standard treatment. Early results from a similar study showed complete or partial remission in 96 percent of patients.
“Things are beginning to dramatically change in the way we treat colon cancer,” says David Van Echo, M.D., an oncologist at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center and professor of medicine and pharmacy at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
“This new therapy is very promising for patients who have colon cancer that has recurred or spread to other organs,” he says. The Phase-II trial involves giving the patient the drug CPT-11 (irinotecan) for 30 minutes, followed by leucovorin for 2 hours and a drug called 5-FU (5 fluorouracil) for 24 hours by intravenous drip. The patient begins therapy in the doctor’s office but then goes home while the third drug is being infused.
“CPT-11 is a fairly new agent, leucovorin has been a standard treatment and 5-FU has been around for about 45 years,” Dr. Van Echo explains. “What’s new is this particular sequencing and a more frequent administration of the drugs at higher doses. Under current standards of care, the best that a patient with advanced colon cancer can expect is a reduction in the mortality rate from 60 percent to 50 percent. With this treatment we hope to get that down to 5 percent.”
Van Echo stresses that this is just one of several approaches and that people with recurrent or metastasized cancer should seek out and enroll in clinical trials because it may be the only way for them to get some of the newer drugs and therapies. Also, enrolling in clinical trials has become easier for patients in Maryland with the passing of a clinical trials bill mandating health insurance carriers to cover patient care costs associated with approved clinical research for cancer and other life-threatening conditions.
An earlier test of the new treatment in Germany on 26 colon cancer patients who had never before received chemotherapy resulted in 15 cases of complete remission, 10 cases of partial remission and only 1 case of progressive disease.
Van Echo’s study is only for those patients who already have received some form of chemotherapy.
Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. More than 150,000 new cases are diagnosed every year and more than half of these patients eventually will die of the disease. Although colon cancers grow slowly, they often are not detected until it is too late. For that reason, cancer specialists urge all patients over 50 years of age to have a colonoscopy.
Although younger people do not usually have colon cancer, three recent cases of physically fit patients in their mid-30s have focused attention on the disease: Baseball players Eric Davis and Darryl Strawberry and model Leslie Glass.
Glass, who was raised in Baltimore and has a successful career as a model and actress, was the first patient Dr. Van Echo treated with this approach. She became his patient in September 1998, and without it she probably would have died by Halloween, he says. After undergoing the new therapy for a month, about 70 tumors that had spread to her liver began disappearing.“Now, if you look at her CAT-scans and didn’t know anything else about her, you couldn’t tell she had cancer,” Dr. Van Echo says.
Dr. Van Echo says he has had similar results with six other patients he is treating. “Under standard treatments, the absolute increase in long-term survival for patients with advanced stages of colorectal cancers has been relatively low, but this new regimen appears so highly effective in people with advanced stages of colorectal cancers that it may save substantial numbers of lives. This study should help set future treatment patterns.”
Patients interested in the study should call the Greenebaum Cancer Center at 1-800-888-8823.
Cite This Page: