Family history of colorectal cancer reduces death risk

Bowel co-morbidity 25% less in patients with affected siblings.

Survival odds from advanced colorectal cancer are better if you have a family history of the disease, US research suggests.

Findings come from a study of 1,087 patients with stage 3 colon cancer receiving chemotherapy, almost 18 per cent of whom had one or more first- degree relatives who had suffered from the disease.

Over a median follow-up of five years and seven months, 29 per cent of those with a family history of colorectal cancer died or suffered from cancer recurrence, compared with 38 per cent of those without.

Separating the two risk factors out, researchers found that having a family history of colorectal cancer reduced the risk of cancer recurrence by 26 per cent and death by 25 per cent.

Further analysis showed that the more relatives with colorectal cancer a patient had, the stronger the benefit.

For example, those with two or more affected relatives had a 51 per cent lower risk of cancer recurrence or death than those without a family history.

Lead researcher Dr Jennifer Chan, from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, told GP: 'This seems to suggest that tumours that tend to develop in individuals with a family history may grow and develop through distinct biological mechanisms that may be more favourable.'

The next step is to identify what factors associated with having a family history account for the improved prognosis.

'If we are able to identify such factors this may lead to genetic testing of either patients or their tumours that can help us better determine a patient's prognosis and guide them to better treatment decisions,' added Dr Chan.

rachel.liddle@haymarket.com

JAMA 2008; 299: 2,515-23

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