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Colorectal Cancer News in Brief: April 10

This week we review research on the impacts of colonoscopy screening in Germany, folic acid flour supplementation in Chile, and untreated anxiety and pain during the last months of life on surviving spouses of cancer patients.

In the news are reports of colon cancer surgery using a tiny incision in the belly button, requirements for KRAS testing before insurance will pay for Erbitux or Vectibix treatment, and information about how stem cells in the intestinal tract become cancer stem cells, driving the development and progression of colorectal cancer.

Research Reports

Other Headlines

  • St. Louis University Hospital is doing unique single-incision GI operations that include colectomies for colon cancer. Unlike more common laparoscopic surgery that uses several incisions in the abdomen, single-incision surgery is performed through a small, half-inch opening in the belly button.  Patients have less pain and fewer scars.  The procedure uses flexible scopes and instruments that can move easily within the body, producing views from all angles.  Board-certified colorectal surgeon Dr. Ovunc Bardakcioglu leads the minimally invasive surgical team developing and teaching the techniques.
  • Beginning April 1, 2009 UnitedHealthcare insurance programs will require KRAS testing before paying for colorectal cancer treatment with Erbitux® (cetuximab) or Vectibix™ (panitumumab).   Only patients with non-mutated (wild-type) KRAS in their tumor tissue will be considered for coverage.  They recommend, “We encourage physicians to obtain KRAS testing for their colorectal patients as soon as reasonable, and especially prior to starting the drugs cetuximab and panitumumab or earlier if clinically appropriate. “ United has contracts with two national laboratories — Genzyme Genetics and LabCorp — to provide testing.
  • Stem cells constantly are repairing and renewing the lining of the colon.  Changes can lead them to becoming cancer stem cells, critical to the development and progression of colorectal cancer.  Scientists at the UK National Stem Cell Network conference say that they know such cells exist, but are not sure exactly which normal cells in the bowel can become cancer stem cells.  Professor Malcolm Allison, the London School of Medicine, told the conference, “Drugs could be targeted to specifically work on cancer stem cells and so provide a more direct approach for treating bowel cancer.” Professor Allison says that he sees patient trials within three years to target and knock out cancer stem cells.  Michelle Roberts has written a story about the conference and colorectal cancer stem cells for BBC News.

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