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Implications of Genetic Testing in the Management of Colorectal Cancer

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The prognosis of patients with colorectal cancer is impacted by various factors at the time of diagnosis, including location of the tumor, gender, age and overall performance status of the patient. Optimal postoperative management of patients who have undergone successful tumor resection involves the utilization of reliable determninants of prognosis to help select patients who would benefit from adjuvant treatment, while sparing others from drug-related adverse effects. Tailoring chemotherapy for patients with disseminated cancer, or for patients who receive adjuvant chemotherapy, is also critical.

Interpatient differences in tumor response and drug toxicity are common during chemotherapy. Genomic variability of key metabolic enzyme complexes, drug targets, and drug transport molecules is an important contributing factor. The identification of genetic markers of response and prognosis will aid in the development of more individualized chemotherapuetic strategies for cancer patients. Potential prognostic indicators in colorectal cancer include oncogenes, tumor suppressor genes, genes involved in angiogenic and apoptotic pathways and cell proliferation, and those encoding targets of chemotherapy. Specifically, molecular markers such as deletion of 18q (DCC), p27 and microsatellite instability are promising as indicators of good or poor prognosis.

Molecular determinants of efficacy and host toxicity of the most commonly used drugs in colorectal cancer, fluoracil, irinotecan and oxaliplatin, are being investigated. Alterations in gene expression, protein expression and polymorphic variants in genes encoding thymidylate synthase, dihydropyrimidine dehydrogenase, dUTP nucleotidehydrolase and thymidine phosphorylase (for fluoropyrimidine-based chemotherapy), uridine diphosphate glucosyltransferase (UGT) 1A1 and carboxylesterase (for irinotecan therapy), and excision repair cross-complementing genes (ERCC1 and ERCC2) and glutathione-S-transferase P1 (for oxalilplatin-based regimens) may be useful as markers for clinical drug response, survival and host toxicity.

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    1Dukes’ stage A = tumor confined to bowel wall; B = tumor extending through bowel wall; C = lymph node metastases; Duke modified Astler-Coller classification (MAC) stage D = distant metastases.


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The authors work was supported by grants (R01 CA 82655, K24 CA82754, and P30 CA14089).

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Correspondence to Dr Heinz-Josef Lenz.

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Stoehlmacher, J., Lenz, H. Implications of Genetic Testing in the Management of Colorectal Cancer. Am J Pharmacogenomics 3, 73–88 (2003).

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