Background: Anecdotal reports of tumour regression with histamine type 2 receptor antagonists (H(2)RAs) have lead to a series of trials with this class of drug as adjuvant therapy to try and improve outcomes in patients with resected colorectal cancers. There was a plausible scientific rationale suggesting merit in this strategy. This included improved immune surveillance (by way of increasing tumour infiltrating lymphocytes), inhibiting the direct proliferative effect of histamine as a growth factor for colorectal cancer and, in the case of cimetidine, inhibiting endothelial expression of E-selectin (a cell adhesion molecule thought to be critical for metastatic spread).
Objectives: To determine if H(2)RAs improve overall survival when used as pre- and/or postoperative therapy in colorectal cancer patients who have had surgical resection with curative intent. We also stratified the results to see if there was an improvement in overall survival in terms of the specific H(2)RA used.
Search methods: Randomised controlled trials were identified using a sensitive search strategy in the following databases: MEDLINE (1964 to present), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL, The Cochrane Library 2009), EMBASE (1980 to present) and Cancerlit (1983 to present).
Selection criteria: Criteria for study selection included: patients with colorectal cancer surgically resected with curative intent; H(2)RAs used i) at any dose, ii) for any length of time, iii) with any other treatment modality and iv) in the pre-, peri- or post-operative period. The results were stratified for the H(2)RA used.
Data collection and analysis: The literature search retrieved 142 articles. There were six studies included in the final analysis, published from 1995 to 2007, including a total of 1229 patients. All patients were analysed by intention to treat according to their initial allocation. Log hazard ratios and standard errors of treatment effects (on overall survival) were calculated using the Cochrane statistical package RevMan Version 5. Hazard ratios and standard errors were recorded from trial publications or, if not provided, were estimated from published actuarial survival curves using a spreadsheet designed for this purpose (http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/supplementary/1745-6215-8-16-S1.xls).
Main results: Of the six identified trials, five used cimetidine as the experimental H(2)RA, whereas one used ranitidine. There was a trend towards improved survival when H(2)RAs were utilised as adjuvant therapy in patients having curative-intent surgery for colorectal cancer (HR 0.70; 95% CI 0.48-1.03, P = 0.07). Analysis of the five cimetidine trials (n = 421) revealed a statistically significant improvement in overall survival (HR 0.53; 95% CI 0.32 to 0.87).
Authors' conclusions: Of the H(2)RAs evaluated cimetidine appears to confer a survival benefit when given as an adjunct to curative surgical resection of colorectal cancers. The trial designs were heterogeneous and adjuvant therapy has evolved since these trials were performed. Further prospective randomised studies are warranted.