Chemoradiation therapy in the management of gastrointestinal malignancies

Future Oncol. 2011 Mar;7(3):409-26. doi: 10.2217/fon.11.7.


Concurrent administration of chemotherapy and radiotherapy has been increasingly used in cancer treatment, leading to improvements in survival as well as quality of life. Currently, it is a feasible preference, often regarded as the standard therapeutic option, for many locally confined solid tumors, including anal, bladder, cervical, esophageal, gastric, head and neck, lung, pancreatic and rectal cancers. In patients with these tumors, combined modality therapy improves local tumor control and survival while, in some instances, obviating the need for surgical removal of the organ of origin. The scientific rationale for the use of chemoradiation derives from the preclinical and clinical observations of synergistic interactions between radiotherapy and chemotherapy. When chemotherapy and radiotherapy are administered together, the chemotherapeutic agents can sensitize the cancer cells to the effects of ionizing radiation, leading to increased tumor-killing effects within the radiotherapy field. This, in turn, can improve local control of the primary tumor and, in some cancers, render surgical resection unnecessary. In other cases, patients with tumors that were initially considered unresectable are able to undergo curative interventions after completing chemoradiation. The chemotherapy component can address any potential micrometastatic disease that, without therapy, leads to an increased risk of distant recurrence. A large body of evidence exists that supports the use of chemoradiotherapy in gastrointestinal cancers. In fact, one of the first tumor types in which the superior efficacy of chemoradiation was described was anal cancer. Since then, chemoradiotherapy has been explored in other gastrointestinal malignancies with superior outcomes when compared with either radiation or chemotherapy alone. This article aims to recapitulate the clinical evidence supporting the use of chemoradiotherapy in a variety of gastrointestinal tumor types.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use*
  • Chemotherapy, Adjuvant
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Humans
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / radiotherapy


  • Antineoplastic Agents