, Volume 26, Issue 8, pp 627-646
Date: 31 Aug 2012

Advances in the Pharmacological Treatment of Gastro-Oesophageal Cancer

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Abstract

Despite a sharp decline in the incidence of gastric cancer during the second half of the 20th century, this malignancy remains the second leading cause of cancer mortality in the world. The incidence and mortality rate of gastric cancer increase with age; at present, the median ages at diagnosis are 67 years for men and 72 years for women in the US. This article reviews and discusses current medical treatment options for both the general population and elderly gastric cancer patients.

Management of localized gastric cancer has changed significantly over recent years. Adjuvant chemoradiation is not generally recommended outside the US. After decades of trials of adjuvant chemotherapy with inconclusive results, a significant survival benefit for perioperative combination chemotherapy — as compared with surgery alone — in patients with resectable or locally advanced gastro-oesophageal cancer was recently demonstrated in the UK MAGIC trial. A further large, randomized trial from Japan demonstrated a significant survival benefit for adjuvant chemotherapy with S-1 after D2 resection for gastric cancer. However, both trials are applicable only to the population in which the trials were conducted. Specific data on elderly patients are missing.

For patients with metastatic disease, oral fluoropyrimidines, such as capecitabine, have been developed. In Asian patients, treatment with the oral fluoropyrimidine S-1 is safe and effective. Docetaxel, oxaliplatin and irinotecan have demonstrated activity against gastric cancer in appropriately designed, randomized, phase III trials and have increased the available treatment options significantly. In addition, according to preliminary data, trastuzumab in combination with chemotherapy has significantly improved activity when compared to chemotherapy alone in patients with human epidermal receptor (HER)-2-positive gastric and gastro-oesophageal cancers. Thus, therapeutic decisions in patients with advanced gastric cancer may be adapted to the molecular subtype and co-morbidities of the individual patient. Data from retrospective analyses suggest that oxaliplatin seems to be better tolerated than cisplatin in elderly patients.