Current approaches and challenges for monitoring treatment response in colon and rectal cancer

Elizabeth McKeown, Daniel W. Nelson, Eric K. Johnson, Justin A. Maykel, Alexander Stojadinovic, Aviram Nissan, Itzhak Avital, Björn L.D.M. Brücher, Scott R. Steele*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-43
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Cancer
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • CEA
  • CT
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Down-staging
  • ERUS
  • Imaging modalities
  • MRI
  • Neoadjuvant therapy
  • PET
  • Treatment response


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