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  • Improving Colorectal Cancer Survival Rates Is Critical: New approaches continue to emerge that help increase survival

    The 2013 statistics related to colorectal cancer show the significance of continued research and development for new methods to improve survival rates. Most individuals who develop the disease are over age 50, and of 102,480 new cases of colon cancer and 40,340 new cases of rectal cancer, 50,830 instances resulted in death. Furthermore, estimates are that only 74% of Stage I and 6% of Stage IV men and women diagnosed live more than five years beyond disease identification. Consequently, the pursuit continues for even more impactful improvements to help patients live longer.

    Drug therapies are familiar tools to treat colorectal cancer, and researchers are constantly looking for new approaches for their use. As an example, the FDA recently approved bevacizumab (Avastin) for use in combination with fluoropyrimidine-irinotecan or fluoropyrimidine-oxaliplatin based chemotherapy for the treatment of patients with metastatic colorectal cancer. Avastin is commonly prescribed to treat colon cancer that has metastasized because of the drug's ability to hinder the growth of blood vessels that would feed cancerous tumors. The study on which the FDA based the approval demonstrated a statistically significant overall survival improvement and an improved progression-free survival rate in patients who received cross-over chemotherapy with Avastin compared to patients who received only crossover chemotherapy.

    What More Can Be Done?
    The path to advancement involves honing existing therapies and implementing new approaches. Since colorectal cancer commonly spreads as inoperable tumors on the liver, one of the new methods is a procedure called yttrium-90 microsphere radioembolization, where radioactive microbeads are nonsurgically implanted near liver tumors to deliver direct doses of radiation. Research conducted in Michigan, at Beaumont Hospitals, looked at the resulting improvements in survival rates and also investigated the interplay of the procedure along with treatment with Avastin. Findings included encouraging evidence that the microbead treatment could help extend patient survival for nearly one year beyond what could be expected for patients who receive just chemotherapy.

    Since Avastin interferes with the new growth of blood vessels that feed tumors, patients who had more recent doses of Avastin were able to cease the microbead treatment sooner than patients whose last dose of Avastin was a greater length of time away, as a result of the slowed flow of blood near the liver tumors. Realizations of this kind show the importance of continued research that looks at the outcomes of various combinations and timing of treatments. Having important safety information on drugs such as Avastin in your EHR can help you improve patient care. Join our EHR Insights Panel today to share your thoughts.

    Salvatore Volpe, MD, FAAP, FACP, CHCQM
    Chief Medical Officer
    PDR Network