3-month versus 6-month adjuvant chemotherapy for patients with high-risk stage II and III colorectal cancer: 3-year follow-up of the SCOT non-inferiority RCT

Health Technol Assess. 2019 Dec;23(64):1-88. doi: 10.3310/hta23640.


Background: Oxaliplatin and fluoropyrimidine chemotherapy administered over 6 months is the standard adjuvant regimen for patients with high-risk stage II or III colorectal cancer. However, the regimen is associated with cumulative toxicity, characterised by chronic and often irreversible neuropathy.

Objectives: To assess the efficacy of 3-month versus 6-month adjuvant chemotherapy for colorectal cancer and to compare the toxicity, health-related quality of life and cost-effectiveness of the durations.

Design: An international, randomised, open-label, non-inferiority, Phase III, parallel-group trial.

Setting: A total of 244 oncology clinics from six countries: UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), Denmark, Spain, Sweden, Australia and New Zealand.

Participants: Adults aged ≥ 18 years who had undergone curative resection for high-risk stage II or III adenocarcinoma of the colon or rectum.

Interventions: The adjuvant treatment regimen was either oxaliplatin and 5-fluorouracil or oxaliplatin and capecitabine, randomised to be administered over 3 or 6 months.

Main outcome measures: The primary outcome was disease-free survival. Overall survival, adverse events, neuropathy and health-related quality of life were also assessed. The main cost categories were chemotherapy treatment and hospitalisation. Cost-effectiveness was assessed through incremental cost comparisons and quality-adjusted life-year gains between the options and was reported as net monetary benefit using a willingness-to-pay threshold of £30,000 per quality-adjusted life-year per patient.

Results: Recruitment is closed. In total, 6088 patients were randomised (3044 per group) between 27 March 2008 and 29 November 2013, with 6065 included in the intention-to-treat analyses (3-month analysis, n = 3035; 6-month analysis, n = 3030). Follow-up for the primary analysis is complete. The 3-year disease-free survival rate in the 3-month treatment group was 76.7% (standard error 0.8%) and in the 6-month treatment group was 77.1% (standard error 0.8%), equating to a hazard ratio of 1.006 (95% confidence interval 0.909 to 1.114; p-value for non-inferiority = 0.012), confirming non-inferiority for 3-month adjuvant chemotherapy. Frequent adverse events (alopecia, anaemia, anorexia, diarrhoea, fatigue, hand-foot syndrome, mucositis, sensory neuropathy, neutropenia, pain, rash, altered taste, thrombocytopenia and watery eye) showed a significant increase in grade with 6-month duration; the greatest difference was for sensory neuropathy (grade ≥ 3 was 4% for 3-month vs.16% for 6-month duration), for which a higher rate of neuropathy was seen for the 6-month treatment group from month 4 to ≥ 5 years (p < 0.001). Quality-of-life scores were better in the 3-month treatment group over months 4-6. A cost-effectiveness analysis showed 3-month treatment to cost £4881 less over the 8-year analysis period, with an incremental net monetary benefit of £7246 per patient.

Conclusions: The study achieved its primary end point, showing that 3-month oxaliplatin-containing adjuvant chemotherapy is non-inferior to 6 months of the same regimen; 3-month treatment showed a better safety profile and cost less. For future work, further follow-up will refine long-term estimates of the duration effect on disease-free survival and overall survival. The health economic analysis will be updated to include long-term extrapolation for subgroups. We expect these analyses to be available in 2019-20. The Short Course Oncology Therapy (SCOT) study translational samples may allow the identification of patients who would benefit from longer treatment based on the molecular characteristics of their disease.

Trial registration: Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN59757862 and EudraCT 2007-003957-10.

Funding: This project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Technology Assessment programme and will be published in full in Health Technology Assessment; Vol. 23, No. 64. See the NIHR Journals Library website for further project information. This research was supported by the Medical Research Council (transferred to NIHR Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre - Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation; grant reference G0601705), the Swedish Cancer Society and Cancer Research UK Core Clinical Trials Unit Funding (funding reference C6716/A9894).


Plain language summary

Patients diagnosed with bowel cancer are likely to have surgery to remove the tumour. Patients diagnosed with a more advanced stage of the disease are then likely to be offered what is known as adjuvant chemotherapy – chemotherapy to kill any cancer cells that have already spread but cannot be seen. Adjuvant chemotherapy is usually given over 6 months using two medicines known as oxaliplatin and fluoropyrimidine. This chemotherapy has side effects of diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting, and it reduces the numbers of cells in the blood. It can also damage nerves, which causes discomfort, numbness and tingling; in some cases, this can go on for years. These side effects are more likely to develop with longer treatment. This study looked at whether or not shortening the time over which patients were given oxaliplatin and fluoropyrimidine chemotherapy reduced its effectiveness. In this large study of over 6000 patients, half of the patients were allocated by chance to be treated for 3 months and the other half to be treated for 6 months. Reducing the time that patients had chemotherapy from 6 months to 3 months did not make the treatment less effective. When patients treated with chemotherapy over 3 months were compared with those treated over 6 months, 77% of patients in both groups were well with no detectable disease 3 years after surgery. Patients were less likely to get side effects with 3-month chemotherapy. In particular, the chance of persistent long-term nerve damage was lower, resulting in patients with 3-month chemotherapy having better health-related quality of life. Overall, the study showed that 3-month adjuvant chemotherapy for patients with bowel cancer is as effective as 6-month adjuvant chemotherapy and causes fewer side effects.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase III
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols* / economics
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols* / therapeutic use
  • Australia
  • Capecitabine / therapeutic use*
  • Chemotherapy, Adjuvant
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis / economics
  • Disease-Free Survival*
  • Europe
  • Female
  • Fluorouracil / therapeutic use*
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Internationality
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxaliplatin / therapeutic use*
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years
  • Technology Assessment, Biomedical
  • Time Factors
  • United Kingdom


  • Oxaliplatin
  • Capecitabine
  • Fluorouracil

Associated data

  • ISRCTN/ISRCTN59757862
  • EudraCT/2007-003957-10