An important advance in cancer treatment has been made in recent years with the finding that adjuvant therapy can significantly improve the survival of patients with colorectal cancer. In patients with resected lymph node-positive colon carcinomas (TNM stage 3), adjuvant 5-fluorouracil and levamisole produced an unequivocal survival advantage that established this combination as the standard of clinical practice. Given that biochemical modulation of fluorouracil by leucovorin can increase response rates in advanced disease, this combination is undergoing evaluation as an adjuvant treatment. Preliminary results indicate that 5-fluorouracil and leucovorin are effective in reducing disease relapse; however, the effect of this regimen on patient survival rates awaits extended follow-up. In the treatment of stages 2 and 3 rectal cancer, significant reductions in local recurrence and death rates have been achieved with the combination of 5-fluorouracil and radiation therapy. Immunologic approaches and newer chemotherapeutic agents may further improve patient outcome and are under investigation, as are efforts to reduce the toxic effects of cancer chemotherapy. Increased understanding of the biology of these diseases is likely to yield prognostic markers capable of identifying subgroups of earlier stage patients at high risk of disease relapse who may also benefit from adjuvant therapy.
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