Managers & Medicine

Specialists are calling for a new drug to be used as standard chemotherapy treatment for colorectal cancer patients with secondary tumours after research has shown the drug increases survival time and quality of life for patients who have relapsed or failed to respond to standard drug treatment.

A multi-centre study of 279 patients assessed one-year survival for those on the drug irinotecan. It found that survival increased from 14 per cent to 36 per cent. Patients receiving irinotecan lived, on average, 2.6 times longer than patients receiving standard care.

YCurrently, the only option for patients who have not responded to first-line chemotherapy - 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) - or who have relapsed within six months is symptom control and palliative care.

Quality of life was much improved for patients on irinotecan, who benefited from longer pain-free survival and less weight loss. Even those patients with irinotecan who did not get tumour shrinkage benefited from improved symptom control.

David Cunningham, consultant medical oncologist at the Royal Marsden trust, and study leader, said:

'This research shows for the first time that there is a second-line chemotherapy treatment with a demonstrable survival benefit for colorectal cancer patients. The benefits of this drug are so overwhelming it should be used as standard treatment after 5-FU has failed.'