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When chemotherapy for colorectal cancer is delayed by more than four weeks following surgery, patients face an increased risk of death. These findings were recently reported at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Stage III colorectal cancer refers to cancer that has spread through the wall of the colon to nearby lymph nodes but is not detected elsewhere in the body. Stage III colorectal cancer is often treated with surgery followed by chemotherapy, called adjuvant chemotherapy. Some patients with Stage II colorectal cancer (disease that has spread passed the wall of the colon into the abdominal cavity) may also benefit from adjuvant chemotherapy.

Researchers with this recent study reviewed data from previous studies to determine whether delaying chemotherapy for colon cancer by more than four weeks after surgery affects survival. Data were used from nine studies that evaluated the relationship between timing of adjuvant chemotherapy and survival. A total of 14,357 patients were included in the data.

Findings indicated that delaying chemotherapy by more than four weeks after surgery did increase risk of death among colorectal cancer patients: a delay of eight weeks increased risk by 12%, and a delay of 12 weeks increased risk by 25%. As these results indicate, risk of death increases with longer delays between chemotherapy and surgery.

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The researchers conclude that, in order to avoid an increased risk of death, adjuvant chemotherapy for colorectal cancer should begin as soon after surgery as is feasible and as patient health allows.

Reference: Biagi JJ, Raphael M, King, WD, et al. The impact of time to adjuvant chemotherapy (AC) on survival in colorectal cancer (CRC): A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 29: 2011 (suppl 4; abstr 364).

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