Drug Improves Colon Cancer Survival, U.Va. Research Confirms

January 26, 2012

January 26, 2012 — Patients with advanced colon cancers showed improved survival rates when the drug oxaliplatin was added to standard chemotherapy treatment, according to a University of Virginia School of Medicine review of patients treated outside of clinical trials.

Colon cancer is a leading cause of death around the world, with more than 101,000 Americans being diagnosed in 2011 alone. The U.Va. research reviewed data from more than 4,000 patients with stage III colon cancer, younger than age 75, who had received chemotherapy within 120 days of surgery. Roughly a third of colon cancer cases are diagnosed in stage III.

In U.Va.'s study of patients treated across heterogeneous settings, the addition of oxaliplatin to the standard treatment of 5-fluorouracil improved outcomes across demographics, including in older patients, minorities and those with other medical conditions.

Dr. Hanna K. Sanoff, an assistant professor of medicine, hematology and oncology at the Medical School, led the review.

"Since 2004, oxaliplatin has been accepted as the standard for patients with stage III colon cancer, but up until now we have not been sure if the benefit from oxaliplatin would hold up outside the very rigorously controlled environment of a clinical trial," she said. 

Previous trials had found that the addition of oxaliplatin to post-operative chemotherapy improved survival by up to 23 percent. However, trial participants tend to be younger and healthier than typical cancer patients, so there was a question of whether oxaliplatin would produce the same results outside the trial settings. The U.Va. research, published online in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, found that oxaliplatin was equally effective in clinical application.

"It is very encouraging to me as a cancer doctor to see that we have the means to help a diverse group of colon cancer patients with this therapy," Sanoff said. "Unfortunately, we did find that the use of this more effective drug was not uniform, so we have work to do to improve access to optimal cancer treatments for all patients." 

Media Contact

Eric Swensen

UVA Health System