Metastatic colorectal cancer: from improved survival to potential cure

Oncology. 2010;78(3-4):237-48. doi: 10.1159/000315730. Epub 2010 Jun 4.


Context: The treatment of colorectal cancer has improved considerably in recent years, but it remains the second commonest cause of cancer deaths in men and women in the United States. Better therapies have resulted in prolonged median survival for patients with metastatic disease and a select number of patients can now be cured.

Evidence acquisition: We conducted a computerized search using PubMed and Google Scholar for reports published between January 1993 and August 2009 using mesh headings and key words relating to the treatment of colorectal cancer. If reports identified by these criteria referred to other papers not in the initial search, then these were also reviewed if relevant to metastatic colorectal cancer (MCRC).

Results: Seven new chemotherapy agents have been licensed for the treatment of advanced colorectal cancer, with associated improved median survival from 5 months to 2 years. Complete responses are rare with systemic chemotherapy alone, but higher overall response rates to systemic and intrahepatic chemotherapies have enabled initially unresectable patients to undergo potentially curative surgical resection of metastases. Improved surgical expertise together with the adjunctive use of radiofrequency ablation has further expanded the definition of resectability. Advances in the understanding of tumor biology have resulted in the development of clinically useful biomarkers and the emergence of active biological therapies.

Conclusions: The multidisciplinary management of MCRC incorporating improved systemic and local therapies continues to improve median survival and enlarge the cohort of patients that can be approached with curative intent. Recent technological advances have facilitated a better understanding of tumor biology that promises continued advancements in patient care.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Camptothecin / administration & dosage
  • Camptothecin / analogs & derivatives
  • Catheter Ablation
  • Colonic Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Colonic Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Female
  • Fluorouracil / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Irinotecan
  • Liver Neoplasms / secondary
  • Liver Neoplasms / surgery
  • Male
  • Medical Oncology / methods
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Organoplatinum Compounds / administration & dosage
  • Oxaliplatin
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Organoplatinum Compounds
  • Oxaliplatin
  • Irinotecan
  • Fluorouracil
  • Camptothecin