Colorectal Cancer News in Brief: September 12

In research, cancer patients who are separated but not yet divorced have the poorest chances of surviving 5 and 10 years after their diagnoses, and researchers at the VA Medical Center in Houston have identified a strong predictor of colon and rectal cancer survival by studying if cancer has spread into nerves near tumors.

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network provides online treatment summaries for people with cancer, and new rules from the Department of Health and Human Services require that patients be notified when HIPAA rules are broken and their privacy is compromised.

Research Reports

  • Unmarried cancer patients who are separated from their spouses at the time of diagnosis but not widowed or divorced have worse five year survival and ten year survival.  We’ve known for a while that married patients do better than unmarried ones, perhaps because support helps compliance with treatment.  However, review of SEER data for nearly 4 million cancer patients from 1973 through 2004 found that separated patients had the worst survival, followed in order by the  widowed, divorced, and never married.  For reasons yet undetermined, separated patients were 72 percent less likely to be alive five years after diagnosis than married people with cancer and 64 percent less likely after ten years.  Gwen C. Sprehn, PhD and her team at Indiana University School of Medicine report their study in Cancer online August 24, 2009.
  • When cancer spreads to nerves near rectal and colon tumors, patients are four times as likely to die of cancer within five years of their diagnosis and twice as likely to experience a recurrence of stage II or III disease.  Perineural invasion or PNI was found in about 1 out of every 5 colorectal cancers by a research team at the VA Medical Center in Houston.  In particular, stage II (node-negative) patients with PNI had significantly worse outcomes than even stage III patients without PNI.  Although the researchers didn’t have enough information to draw a firm conclusions, it appeared that those stage II patients with PNI who got chemotherapy after surgery did as well as stage II patients without PNI.   PNI was more common as the cancer stage increased, with no cases in stage I and 57 percent in stage IV.   Catherine Liebig and her team report their study results in the Journal of Clinical Oncology Early Release September 8, 2009.

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