Research, Awareness, and Screening Advance the Fight Against Colon Cancer
This March marks the 17th Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Those 17 years have seen not only increased awareness of the disease, but substantial progress in the fight against it: The number of new cases of colon cancer diagnosed, as well as deaths from the disease, have been declining for two decades, largely thanks to screening and early detection.
More recently, new, effective therapies have brought increased hope for patients, including those with advanced disease, says Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers oncologist Sujatha Nallapareddy, MD, who specializes in treating colorectal cancers. In fact, the Colon Cancer Alliance estimates that there are now more than 1 million colon cancer survivors in the United States.
But the disease remains common. The Colon Cancer Alliance reports that colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States.
Recently, several new targeted therapies have been added to the arsenal oncologists use to battle the disease. Two of those drugs, cetuximab and panitumumab, are targeted therapies that have been effective against advanced disease, Nallapareddy says. “We have been using those in a subset of patients based on predictive biomarkers.”
Immunotherapies and the promise they hold for some cancer patients have been grabbing a lot of attention lately. So, it’s no surprise that people diagnosed with colon cancer are asking about immunotherapy treatment options.
“But so far, only a small subset of colon cancer patients can benefit from existing immunotherapies,” Nallapareddy says.
A number of immunotherapies are being evaluated for effectiveness in treating colorectal cancers, however. Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers is involved in several clinical trials for colon cancer therapies, including one evaluating a drug called pembrolizumab, one of a type of immunotherapy called monoclonal antibodies. Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-produced molecules designed to act as antibodies that can replicate the immune system’s attack on cancer cells.
Treatment of colorectal cancer has advanced to the point that often, detailed analysis of a tumor and its characteristics can signal which therapies will be most effective, allowing oncologists to tailor treatments, Nallapareddy says.
She expects treatment for colon cancer to become even more personalized in coming years. “We might be able to look at which side a tumor is on and select one drug for right-side patients, and another for left-side patients.”
“It’s an encouraging time,” for patients and for physicians, says Nallapareddy.