J Cancer 2014; 5(1):31-43. doi:10.7150/jca.7987


Current Approaches and Challenges for Monitoring Treatment Response in Colon and Rectal Cancer

Elizabeth McKeown1, Daniel W. Nelson2, Eric K. Johnson2, Justin A. Maykel3, Alexander Stojadinovic4, Aviram Nissan5, Itzhak Avital6, Björn LDM Brücher6, Scott R. Steele2 ✉

1. Department of Surgery, Swedish Medical Center, Seattle, WA, USA
2. Department of Surgery, Madigan Army Center, Tacoma, WA, USA
3. Division of Colorectal Surgery, UMass Medical Center, Worcester, MA, USA
4. Department of Surgery, Division of Surgical Oncology, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, MD, USA
5. Department of Surgery, Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center, Jerusalem, Israel
6. Bon Secours Cancer Institute, Richmond, VA, USA


Introduction: With the advent of multidisciplinary and multimodality approaches to the management of colorectal cancer patients, there is an increasing need to define how we monitor response to novel therapies in these patients. Several factors ranging from the type of therapy used to the intrinsic biology of the tumor play a role in tumor response. All of these can aid in determining the ideal course of treatment, and may fluctuate over time, pending down-staging or progression of disease. Therefore, monitoring how disease responds to therapy requires standardization in order to ultimately optimize patient outcomes. Unfortunately, how best to do this remains a topic of debate among oncologists, pathologists, and colorectal surgeons. There may not be one single best approach. The goal of the present article is to shed some light on current approaches and challenges to monitoring treatment response for colorectal cancer.

Methods: A literature search was conducted utilizing PubMed and the OVID library. Key-word combinations included colorectal cancer metastases, neoadjuvant therapy, rectal cancer, imaging modalities, CEA, down-staging, tumor response, and biomarkers. Directed searches of the embedded references from the primary articles were also performed in selected circumstances.

Results: Pathologic examination of the post-treatment surgical specimen is the gold standard for monitoring response to therapy. Endoscopy is useful for evaluating local recurrence, but not in assessing tumor response outside of the limited information gained by direct examination of intra-lumenal lesions. Imaging is used to monitor tumors throughout the body for response, with CT, PET, and MRI employed in different circumstances. Overall, each has been validated in the monitoring of patients with colorectal cancer and residual tumors.

Conclusion: Although there is no imaging or serum test to precisely correlate with a tumor's response to chemo- or radiation therapy, these modalities, when used in combination, can aid in allowing clinicians to adjust medical therapy, pursue operative intervention, or (in select cases) identify complete responders. Improvements are needed, however, as advances across multiple modalities could allow appropriate selection of patients for a close surveillance regimen in the absence of operative intervention.

Keywords: Neoadjuvant therapy, colorectal cancer, treatment response, CEA, imaging modalities, PET, CT, MRI, ERUS, down-staging

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How to cite this article:
McKeown E, Nelson DW, Johnson EK, Maykel JA, Stojadinovic A, Nissan A, Avital I, Brücher BL, Steele SR. Current Approaches and Challenges for Monitoring Treatment Response in Colon and Rectal Cancer. J Cancer 2014; 5(1):31-43. doi:10.7150/jca.7987. Available from http://www.jcancer.org/v05p0031.htm