Active specific immunotherapy for stage II and stage III human colon cancer: a randomised trial

Lancet. 1999 Jan 30;353(9150):345-50. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(98)07186-4.


Background: Colon cancer is curable by surgery, but cure rate depends on the extent of disease. We investigated whether adjuvant active specific immunotherapy (ASI) with an autologous tumour cell-BCG vaccine with surgical resection was more beneficial than resection alone in stage II and III colon cancer.

Methods: In a prospective randomised trial, 254 patients with colon cancer were randomly assigned postoperative ASI or no adjuvant treatment. ASI was three weekly vaccinations starting 4 weeks after surgery, with a booster vaccination at 6 months with 10(7) irradiated autologous tumour cells. The first vaccinations contained 10(7) BCG organisms. We followed up patients for time to recurrence, and recurrence-free and overall survival. Analysis was by intention to treat.

Findings: The 5.3 year median follow-up (range 8 months to 8 years 11 months) showed 44% (95% CI 7-66) risk reduction for recurrence in the recurrence-free period in all patients receiving ASI (p=0.023). Overall, there were 40 recurrences in the control group and 25 in the ASI group. Analysis by stage showed no significant benefit of ASI in stage III disease. The major impact of ASI was seen in patients with stage II disease, with a significantly longer recurrence-free period (p=0.011) and 61% (18-81) risk reduction for recurrences. Recurrence-free survival was significantly longer with ASI (42% risk reduction for recurrence or death [0-68], p=0.032) and there was a trend towards improved overall survival.

Interpretation: ASI gave significant clinical benefit in surgically resected patients with stage II colon cancer. ASI has minimal adverse reactions and should be considered in the management of stage II colon cancer.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / therapeutic use*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • BCG Vaccine / therapeutic use*
  • Cancer Vaccines / therapeutic use*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / immunology
  • Colonic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Colonic Neoplasms / surgery
  • Colonic Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Disease-Free Survival
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy* / methods
  • Immunotherapy, Active*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Prospective Studies


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • BCG Vaccine
  • Cancer Vaccines