Radiotherapy cuts bowel cancer recurrence: study

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LONDON (Reuters), Oct 9 - Giving bowel cancer patients radiotherapy before surgery to remove the tumor, rather than after, can reduce the risk of the disease recurring to as little as 1%, researchers said on Monday.

Surgery is the standard treatment for the illness but there is still a risk that the cancer can return. If it does, the disease is more difficult to treat and often incurable.

In a international study known as the CR07 trial, British scientists compared the impact of giving radiotherapy before surgery and after on 1,350 patients in Britain, Canada, South Africa, and New Zealand.

They found that patients in the preoperative group had a lower rate of recurrence and a better five-year survival rate.

"The results of the CR07 trial show that giving a patient radiotherapy before rectal surgery gives them the best chance of avoiding re-growth of the cancer and of survival in the longer term," said Dr David Sebag-Montefiore, of the Cookridge Hospital in Leeds.

Patients in the preoperative group of the trial, which was presented at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) meeting in Birmingham, England, were given five daily treatments of radiotherapy followed by surgery within two weeks.

In the postoperative group, surgery was followed by 25 radiotherapy sessions over five weeks and chemotherapy if necessary.

Five percent of patients who had preoperative radiotherapy had a local recurrence of the cancer after five years, compared to 17% in the other group. They also had a 75% chance of five-year survival while in the postoperative group it was 67%.

"This is good news for patients and clinicians alike and could lead to an increase in the use of preoperative therapy," Sebag-Montefiore added in a statement.

Bowel cancer kills nearly half a million people worldwide each year. In developed countries it is the second most common cancer, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Most cases occur sporadically but about 5% of patients have a family history of the disease.

Last Updated: 2006-10-09 12:00:35 -0400 (Reuters Health)

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