Review: Medical treatment of advanced colorectal cancer in 2009

Axel Grothey

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The treatment options currently available in the medical therapy of advanced colorectal cancer (CRC) appear to be an abundance of riches. The integration of oxaliplatin and irinotecan as conventional cytotoxic agents as well as bevacizumab and the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) antibodies, cetuximab and panitumumab, as novel targeted agents into standard medical therapy have improved median overall survival in metastatic CRC beyond 2 years. It cannot be overemphasized that these significant improvements in outcome of patients with CRC are closely linked to the number of active drugs available to treat this disease. The abundance of treatment options, however, comes with specific challenges for the practical management of palliative medical therapy in advanced CRC, in particular with regard to the utilization of targeted agents. In this context, bevacizumab has established itself as the standard component of first-line chemotherapy. It is of interest for clinical practice that so far no predictive marker for the activity of bevacizumab in metastatic CRC has been identified. The key questions surrounding the use of bevacizumab in the palliative setting are whether its continuation beyond tumor progression provides clinical benefit, and which patient group is at higher risk for bevacizumab-related toxicities. Cetuximab and panitumumab have demonstrated efficacy both in combination with chemotherapy or — in contrast to bevacizumab — as single agent. In unselected patients, the effect of both EGFR antibodies on time-related parameters, progression free survival and overall survival, is moderate at best with emphasis more on the induction of tumor responses in a select group of patients. Therefore, until recently, EGFR antibodies were mainly regarded as salvage therapy options, in particular, since there did not appear to be a loss of activity when used in later lines of therapy. The finding that CRC harboring KRAS (and BRAF) mutations are resistant to EGFR antibodies, has allowed us to enrich the patient population with CRC that have a chance to benefit from cetuximab or panitumumab therapy. Biomarker-based treatment decisions are therefore now an integral part of clinical practice and trial design in CRC. In conclusion, targeted agents have become an integral part of medical therapy for advanced CRC. The challenge for current oncologic practice is to develop a rationale and biomarker-based treatment algorithm utilizing all potentially active agents as individualized therapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)55-68
Number of pages14
JournalTherapeutic Advances in Medical Oncology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 2009


  • chemotherapy
  • colorectal cancer
  • liver metastasis
  • palliative
  • targeted agents

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology


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