PMCCPMCCPMCC

Search tips
Search criteria 

Advanced

 
Logo of springeropenLink to Publisher's site
Annals of Surgical Oncology
 
Ann Surg Oncol. 2010 April; 17(4): 947–949.
Published online 2010 January 22. doi:  10.1245/s10434-009-0880-z
PMCID: PMC2840669

Adjuvant Therapy for Colon Cancer: Learning from the Past to Inform the Future

Adjuvant treatment of colon cancer has been a clear success story over the last three decades. Since the seminal trial of Moertel demonstrating the efficacy of 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) with levamisole for stage III disease, to the current standard of care of oxaliplatin plus fluoropyrimidines delivered either as the FOLFOX or the XELOX regimen, a large number of randomized clinical trials have supported incremental advances in efficacy as well as modifications to retain efficacy while reducing toxicity and/or duration of therapy.13 The Colon Clinical Trials Program of the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP) has been a fundamental cog in this wheel; many of the NSABP’s trials have helped set or validate a standard of care. As such, it is useful to review the history of the NSABP’s trial program, which Wilkinson et al. do in this issue.4

The pooled results of NSABP C-01 through C-05 reaffirm several facts. First, and most importantly, fluorouracil-based adjuvant therapy provides clear, clinically meaningful benefit to patients with stage III colon cancer. That this message warrants repeating is surprising, as it comes 20 years after the National Cancer Institute consensus statement.5 However recent population-based data continue to demonstrate that, in the USA, up to 30% of the stage III colon cancer population is not treated with adjuvant therapy.6 The reduced use of chemotherapy is particularly pronounced in the elderly, despite meta-analyses of randomized trials that demonstrated a similar benefit from chemotherapy in both young and older (age ≥70 years) patients.6,7

Second, the analysis confirms a more recent realization that the mechanism of benefit of 5-FU-based therapy is to dramatically reduce the recurrence rate in the first 2 years post surgery, which is when most recurrences occur. This short-term reduction in the recurrence risk translates into a durable survival benefit.8 This phenomenon was confirmed in this NSABP analysis, where in the first year post surgery, chemotherapy reduced the risk of recurrence in stage III patients from 20% to 10% and from 21% to 15% in year 2. Following year 2, the recurrence risk was similar in chemotherapy-treated and control patients. This observation is critical for modern clinical trials, as it relates to both the optimal endpoint for a phase III adjuvant trial as well as the underlying biologic mechanism for benefit of a new therapy. Regarding the first point, for trials testing cytotoxic agents expected to have a similar antitumor effect to chemotherapy, this suggests that an early time point such as 2 or 3 years may be the most sensitive time point to identify a true biologic drug effect.9,10 With regard to the underlying biologic mechanism of action of an adjuvant cytotoxic therapy such as 5-FU, it clearly reduces the risk of recurrent disease, as opposed to only delaying its occurrence. As such this therapy actually eradicates micrometastatic disease, a prerogative for a curative effect. A similar mechanism of action appears to be present for the addition of oxaliplatin to 5-FU; at 5- and 6-year follow-up in the more recent MOSAIC and NSABP C-07 trials the survival curves are continuing to separate and no increase in late recurrences has been observed.11,12 However, in the recent NSABP C-08 trial which added the noncytotoxic, biologic agent bevacizumab to FOLFOX, only a short-term benefit in reduction of recurrence risk was observed, which disappeared after bevacizumab was halted, such that at 3-year follow-up the disease-free survival rates were almost identical in the two arms.13 Thus, in trials of agents with noncytotoxic mechanism of action, short-term endpoints such as 2- or 3-year disease-free survival are likely inadequate to assess long-term survival benefits, as recurrences that are simply delayed as opposed to prevented will not result in long-term cure.

The report of Wilkinson et al. also provides data regarding the benefit of 5-FU-based adjuvant therapy in patients with stage II disease. Adjuvant therapy for patients with stage II disease has been a long-standing controversy, with primarily the NSABP advocating treatment and others finding very little benefit.14,15 Fortunately, we now have randomized data from a large single clinical trial, the recent QUASAR study, where 5-FU-based chemotherapy was associated with significantly improved overall survival (OS) compared with surgery alone in largely stage II patients [5-year OS of 80.3% for chemotherapy versus 77.4% for observation; hazard ratio (HR) = 0.83, p = 0.02].16 These data from a large single randomized trial provide stronger evidence and a more accurate estimate of the true benefit than that possible from the pooled analysis of trials presented by Wilkinson, in which no individual trial directly tested intravenous 5-FU-based therapy against surgery-alone control.4 No amount of multivariate analysis can adjust for the potential for bias in such a comparison, particularly in one where the age distribution of the included patients clearly changed over time; protocols C-03 and C-04 excluded patients over the age of 71 years whereas such patients were allowed in C-01 and C-02, the former being the only two trials with no postsurgical treatment control arms.

The high rate of cure from surgery alone in patients with stage II disease dictates that any postoperative therapy given will be unnecessary for most patients who are cured by surgery alone. There is thus the critical need for prognostic and predictive markers to identify which patients are both at higher and very low risk of recurrence, and more importantly which patients may benefit from therapy. The NSABP authors’ suggestion that “it is inconceivable that a future RCT studying adjuvant therapy for stage II and III colon cancer will ever include patients treated by surgery alone or even surgery followed by 5-FU/LV” is an overstatement given that such a phase III trial is ongoing within the US Intergroup at the present time (ECOG E5202), where patients with stage II colon cancer receive or do not receive adjuvant therapy depending on their status on 18q loss of heterozygosity (LOH) and microsatellite instability (MSI). Indeed, the promising data available for MSI to identify patients who are at very low recurrence risk and who do not appear to benefit from 5-FU support a no-treatment approach in MSI-H stage II colon cancer patients.1720 On the other hand, T4 N0 stage II colon cancers have a prognosis similar to (or even worse than) stage III cancers and should likely routinely receive adjuvant therapy. For the remaining intermediate-risk patients with stage II colon cancer, a signature of molecular makers might be able to further characterize patients with regard to their overall prognosis and whether or not they could benefit from a specific adjuvant treatment regimen.17 Therefore, biospecimen resources to facilitate the identification and validation of prognostic and predictive markers, such as those available at the NSABP, will be critical for the future refinement of adjuvant treatment strategies in colon cancer.

Clinical trials continue to be the cornerstone of advancing medical practice, and nowhere is this more clear than in adjuvant colon cancer. The NSABP has and continues to conduct critical trials to advance our understanding, and the data from these trials continue to provide new insights many years after the primary questions are resolved.

References

1. Moertel CG, Fleming TR, Macdonald JS, et al. Levamisole and fluorouracil for adjuvant therapy of resected colon carcinoma. N Engl J Med. 1990;322:352–358. [PubMed]
2. André T, Boni C, Mounedji-Boudiaf L, et al. Oxaliplatin, 5-fluorouracil, and leucovorin as adjuvant treatment for colon cancer. N Engl J Med. 2004;350:2343–2351. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa032709. [PubMed] [Cross Ref]
3. Haller D, Tabernero J, Maroun J, de Braud F, Price T, Van Cutsem E, et al. First efficacy findings from a randomized phase III trial of capecitabine + oxaliplatin vs. bolus 5-FU/LV for stage III colon cancer (NO16968/XELOXA study). Eur J Cancer Suppl.7(3)3:4.
4. Wilkinson NW, Yothers G, Lopa S, Costantino JP, Petrelli NJ, Wolmark N. Long-term survival results of surgery alone versus surgery plus 5-fluorouracil and leucovorin for stage II and stage III colon cancer: pooled analysis of NSABP C-01 through C-05. A baseline from which to compare modern adjuvant trials. Ann Surg Oncol.2010; doi:10.1245/s10434-009-0881-y. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
5. NIH consensus conference. Adjuvant therapy for patients with colon and rectal cancer. JAMA.Sep 19 1990;264(11):1444–50. [PubMed]
6. Jessup JM, Stewart A, Greene FL, Minsky BD. Adjuvant chemotherapy for stage III colon cancer: implications of race/ethnicity, age, and differentiation. JAMA. 2005;294(21):2703–2711. doi: 10.1001/jama.294.21.2703. [PubMed] [Cross Ref]
7. Sargent DJ, Goldberg RM, Jacobson SD, Macdonald JS, Labianca R, Haller DG, et al. A pooled analysis of adjuvant chemotherapy for resected colon cancer in elderly patients. N Engl J Med. 2001;345(15):1091–1097. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa010957. [PubMed] [Cross Ref]
8. Sargent DJ, Sobrero A, Grothey A, O’Connell MJ, Buyse M, Andre T, et al. Evidence for cure by adjuvant therapy in colon cancer: Observations based on individual patient data from 20, 898 patients on 18 randomized trials. J Clin Oncol. 2009;27(6):872–877. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2008.19.5362. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Cross Ref]
9. Sargent DJ, Patiyil S, Yothers G, Haller DG, Gray R, Benedetti J, et al. End points for colon cancer adjuvant trials: Observations and recommendations based on individual patient data from 20, 898 patients enrolled onto 18 randomized trials from the ACCENT Group. J Clin Oncol. 2007;25(29):4569–4574. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2006.10.4323. [PubMed] [Cross Ref]
10. Sargent DJ, Yothers G, Van Cutsem E, Cassidy J, Saltz L, Wolmark N, et al., The Adjuvant Colon Cancer Endpoints (ACCENT) Group. Use of two-year disease-free survival (DFS) as a primary endpoint in stage III adjuvant colon cancer trials with fluoropyrimidines with or without oxaliplatin or irinotecan: New data from 12,676 patients from MOSAIC, X-ACT, PETACC-3, NSAPB C-06 and C-07, and C89803. J Clin Oncol.2009;27:15s, (suppl; abstr 4011). [PMC free article] [PubMed]
11. Andre T, Boni C, Navarro M, Tabernero J, Hickish T, Topham C, et al. Improved overall survival with oxaliplatin, fluorouracil, and leucovorin as adjuvant treatment in stage II or III colon cancer in the MOSAIC trial. J Clin Oncol. 2009;27(19):3109–3116. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2008.20.6771. [PubMed] [Cross Ref]
12. Wolmark N, Wieand S, Kuebler PJ, Colangelo L, O’Connell MJ, Yothers G. A phase III trial comparing FULV to FULV + oxaliplatin in stage II or III carcinoma of the colon: Survival results of NSABP Protocol C-07. J Clin Oncol.2008;26:(May 20 suppl; abstr LBA4005).
13. Wolmark N, Yothers G, O’Connell MJ, Sharif S, Atkins JN, Seay TE, et al. A phase III trial comparing mFOLFOX6 to mFOLFOX6 plus bevacizumab in stage II or III carcinoma of the colon: Results of NSABP Protocol C-08. J Clin Oncol.2009;27:18s, (suppl; abstr LBA4).
14. Mamounas E, Wieand S, Wolmark N, et al. Comparative efficacy of adjuvant chemotherapy in patients with Dukes’ B versus Dukes’ C colon cancer: Results from four National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project adjuvant studies (C-01, C-02, C-03, and C-04) J Clin Oncol. 1995;17:1349–1355. [PubMed]
15. IMPACT Investigators Efficacy of adjuvant fluorouracil and folinic acid in colon cancer. Lancet. 1995;345:939–944. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(95)90696-7. [PubMed] [Cross Ref]
16. Quasar Collaborative Group. Gray R, Barnwell J, McConkey C, Hills RK, Williams NS, Kerr DJ. Adjuvant chemotherapy versus observation in patients with colorectal cancer: a randomised study. Lancet. 2007;370(9604):2020–2029. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(07)61866-2. [PubMed] [Cross Ref]
17. Kerr D, Gray R, Quirke P, Watson D, Yothers G, Lavery IC, et al., Quasar Colon Teams. A quantitative multigene RT-PCR assay for prediction of recurrence in stage II colon cancer: Selection of the genes in four large studies and results of the independent, prospectively designed QUASAR validation study. J Clin Oncol.2009;27:15s, (suppl; abstr 4000).
18. Roth AD, Tejpar S, Yan P, Fiocca R, Klingbiel D, Delorenzi M, et al. Correlation of molecular markers in colon cancer with stage-specific prognosis: Results of the translational study on the PETACC3 – EORTC 40993-SAKK 60-00 trial. ASCO GI Cancer Symp Abstr.2009;288. [PubMed]
19. Ribic CM, Sargent DJ, Moore MJ, et al. Tumor microsatellite-instability status as a predictor of benefit from fluorouracil-based adjuvant chemotherapy for colon cancer. New Engl J Med. 2003;349:247–257. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa022289. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Cross Ref]
20. Sargent DJ, Marsoni S, Thibodeau SN, Labianca R, Hamilton SR, Torri V, et al. Confirmation of deficient mismatch repair (dMMR) as a predictive marker for lack of benefit from 5-FU based chemotherapy in stage II and III colon cancer (CC): a pooled molecular reanalysis of randomized chemotherapy trials. J Clin Oncol.2008;26: (May 20 suppl; abstr 4008).

Articles from Springer Open Choice are provided here courtesy of Springer