Screening to detect cancer of the colon and rectum is one of the most important issues in oncology, according to specialists today (21 October 2002) at the European Society for Medical Oncology Congress in Nice, France. The disease is highly prevalent, causing nearly 200,000 deaths a year in Europe, and new techniques are urgently needed to screen the population. The early detection of colorectal cancer is potentially associated with a dramatic reduction in the disease-related mortality.
"It is particularly important to screen families at risk where there has been a history of colorectal polyp or cancer," said Dr Thierry André from Hôpital Tenon in Paris, France. "If several members of the family have had colon and rectal cancer or polyps, they should be tested."
Current techniques to detect cancer, a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy, are effective for individuals but they are too expensive, with a high rate of associated complications linked to these techniques, for the general population. Dr André encouraged anyone who is concerned by symptoms such as blood in the stool, abdominal pain or discomfort or changes in bowel habits to "have a consultation with a gastro-enterologist to evaluate the need for a colonoscopy."
In the search for better treatment, Dr André has conducted a trial involving more than 900 patients with colon cancer, comparing monthly with bimonthly treatment with the drugs 5FU and leucovorin. His team found that there was no significant difference in the rate of survival and that the combination of LV5FU2 is less toxic than other combinations of 5FU and leucovorin. "Our study is a small piece of the puzzle," he concluded.