Matching the right treatment with each cancer patient’s case is critical for the best chance at survival and quality of life. Biomarker testing can determine which chemotherapy, and perhaps immunotherapy drugs (many are in clinical trials), might be the best choice.

Deciding the right approach

In colorectal cancer, several biomarkers may predict a patient’s response to treatment.

The RAS genes, KRAS and NRAS, instruct colorectal cancer cells to grow and divide as part of the epidermal growth factor receptor process. Patients with a KRAS or NRAS mutation may not benefit from drugs that target EGFR, which is why late-stage patients must undergo biomarker testing before beginning treatment.

“It’s likely to see future combination-treatment strategies emerge.”

Personalized medicine is an exciting field. Immunotherapy drugs on the cutting edge of science use the body’s own immune system to fight disease and add a great deal of promise to patients. In recent years, it has advanced the field of treatment for several types of cancer. In the last year, we've seen breakthroughs in immunotherapy drugs for small subsets of colorectal cancer patients. One study showed patients with high levels of the micro-satellite instability (MSI) biomarker responding well to an immunotherapy treatment (PD-1). Research on patients with micro-satellite stable biomarkers who received combination therapy with an immunotherapy drug showed scientific progress at the 2016 ASCO meeting.

The future of colorectal cancer awaits new discoveries. We are gaining some great momentum. Along with the RAS genes and other markers, testing for MSI is of extreme importance. It’s likely to see future combination-treatment strategies emerge. There are a number of other colorectal cancer biomarker tests that can help determine survival and responsiveness to treatment. Patients must talk to doctors about testing tumors.

What’s next

As we wait for breakthroughs, we take action. A group of global scientists are already endeavoring to determine top priorities in colorectal cancer immunotherapy research. The group's insights are informing future research; organizations and individuals are increasing research dollars to ensure it's funded.

While researchers act in the labs, patients act from home. Those whose lives depend on a cure watch clinical trials like racehorses at the derby. They research their options, ready to place their bids (or apply for the trial) as soon as openings post. Thanks to what they’ve seen so far, there’s hope. The entire community anticipates a cure to appear around the bend.