What`s new in colorectal cancer research?
Research is always going on in the area of colorectal cancer. Scientists are looking for ways to prevent this cancer as well as ways to improve treatments.
Scientists are learning more about some of the changes in DNA that cause cells of the colon and rectum to become cancer. This knowledge is already being used in genetic tests to inform people most at risk. At some point, this knowledge could also lead to new drugs treatments to fix these gene problems.
Doctors have also found that some gene changes affect whether or not certain treatments will work. Doctors can now test for these gene changes, which may help spare some people from getting treatments that are not likely to help.
Chemoprevention is the use of natural or man-made chemicals to lower a person's risk of getting cancer. Researchers are testing whether certain substances such as fiber, minerals, vitamins, or drugs can lower colorectal cancer risk. Some studies have found that people who take multivitamins with folic acid (folate), vitamin D supplements, or calcium may have a lower colorectal cancer risk. Research into this question is now being done. Most experts say that people should not take large doses of vitamins or minerals unless they are part of a study or are under the care of a doctor.
Taking aspirin or some drugs much like it (called "non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs" or NSAIDs) is linked to a lower risk of colorectal cancer. But these drugs can cause stomach ulcers and other side effects. For this reason, taking NSAIDs just for this purpose is not recommended for people at average colorectal cancer risk. If you are at higher risk for colorectal cancer, you should talk to your doctor about whether to take these drugs as prevention measure.
Most studies have found that a diet high in fruits and vegetables seems to lower colorectal cancer risk, as well as the risk of some other diseases. This hasn't been completely proven by all studies. But it is important that you eat enough servings -- at least 5 a day-- for many health reasons.
Studies are going on to look at how well current colorectal cancer screening methods work and to explore new ways to tell the public about the importance of using these methods. Only about half of Americans over 50 have had any colorectal cancer testing at all. If everyone were tested, thousands of lives could be saved each year. Meanwhile, new tests are also being developed.
Surgeons are finding better ways to operate on colorectal cancers. They now know more about what makes colorectal surgery successful, such as making sure enough lymph nodes are removed during the operation.
Laparoscopic surgery, which is done through several small cuts (incisions) instead of one large one, is becoming more widely used for some colon cancers. This allows patients to recover faster, with less pain after the operation. This surgery is also being studied for treating some rectal cancers. More research is needed.
Robotic surgery, in which the surgeon sits at a control panel and operates very precise robotic arms to do the surgery, is also being studied.
Many new chemotherapy (chemo) drugs or drugs that are now used against other cancers are being tested to treat colorectal cancer. Also under study are ways to combine and improve drugs already in use against colorectal cancer. Still other studies are testing the best ways to combine chemo with other treatments.
Some targeted therapies are already used to treat colorectal cancer. Doctors are looking at the best way to give these drugs. They are also looking at dozens of new ones to increase the treatment choices for people with colorectal cancer. And newer studies are looking at using them with chemo in earlier stage cancers to reduce the risk of recurrence.
Vaccines that could treat colorectal cancer or keep it from coming back after treatment are being studied. Unlike vaccines that prevent other diseases, these vaccines are meant to boost the patient's immune reaction to better fight colorectal cancer. At this time, such vaccines are only available in clinical trials.
Last Medical Review: 06/05/2012
Last Revised: 01/17/2013