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J Clin Oncol. 2009 Apr 10;27(11):1814-21. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2008.18.2071. Epub 2009 Mar 9.

Microsatellite instability predicts improved response to adjuvant therapy with irinotecan, fluorouracil, and leucovorin in stage III colon cancer: Cancer and Leukemia Group B Protocol 89803.

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  • 1Brigham and Women's Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, MA 02115, USA.



Colon cancers exhibiting DNA mismatch repair (MMR) defects demonstrate distinct clinical and pathologic features, including better prognosis and reduced response to fluorouracil (FU) -based chemotherapy. This prospective study investigated adjuvant chemotherapy containing FU and irinotecan in patients with MMR deficient (MMR-D) colon cancers.


Cancer and Leukemia Group B 89803 randomly assigned 1,264 patients with stage III colon cancer to postoperative weekly bolus FU/leucovorin (LV) or weekly bolus irinotecan, FU, and LV (IFL). The primary end point was overall survival; disease-free survival (DFS) was a secondary end point. Tumor expression of the MMR proteins, MLH1 and MSH2, was determined by immunohistochemistry (IHC). DNA microsatellite instability was also assessed using a panel of mono- and dinucleotide markers. Tumors with MMR defects were those demonstrating loss of MMR protein expression (MMR-D) and/or microsatellite instability high (MSI-H) genotype.


Of 723 tumor cases examined by genotyping and IHC, 96 (13.3%) were MMR-D/MSI-H. Genotyping results were consistent with IHC in 702 cases (97.1%). IFL-treated patients with MMR-D/MSI-H tumors showed improved 5-year DFS as compared with those with mismatch repair intact tumors (0.76; 95% CI, 0.64 to 0.88 v 0.59; 95% CI, 0.53 to 0.64; P = .03). This relationship was not observed among patients treated with FU/LV. A trend toward longer DFS was observed in IFL-treated patients with MMR-D/MSI-H tumors as compared with those receiving FU/LV (0.57; 95% CI, 0.42 to 0.71 v 0.76; 95% CI, 0.64 to 0.88; P = .07; hazard ratio interaction between tumor status and treatment, 0.51; likelihood ratio P = .117).


Loss of tumor MMR function may predict improved outcome in patients treated with the IFL regimen as compared with those receiving FU/LV.

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