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Oncologist. 2013;18(1):54-63. doi: 10.1634/theoncologist.2012-0050. Epub 2013 Jan 8.

Relative effectiveness and safety of chemotherapy in elderly and nonelderly patients with stage III colon cancer: a systematic review.

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  • 1Department of Pharmaceutical Health Services Research, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, Baltimore, Maryland, USA. anna.hung@umaryland.edu



Chemotherapy effectiveness in clinical practice may differ from the efficacy demonstrated in clinical trials, particularly among populations underrepresented in clinical trials, such as elderly patients with cancer. This review aims to examine the relative effectiveness of chemotherapy for stage III colon cancer in elderly versus nonelderly patients.


A systematic literature review was conducted using the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality approach. Literature searches were performed in Medline and Evidence-Based Medicine Reviews databases. Chemotherapy regimens approved for stage III colon cancer were reviewed. Four effectiveness and 15 safety outcomes were extracted.


From 708 identified articles, 25 articles provided data on the relative effectiveness and safety of chemotherapy among elderly versus nonelderly patients. Four of 14 studies showed lower overall survival treatment effects, whereas one of five and one of four studies indicated more favorable treatment effects for time to progression and overall response rate. Grade 3 or 4 adverse events were higher among elderly patients for cardiac disorder (2/5 studies), leukopenia (1/5), neutropenia (4/16), thrombocytopenia (2/13), febrile neutropenia (1/4), infection (2/10), dehydration (2/6), diarrhea (6/20), and fatigue (6/13). Grade 3 or 4 adverse events were lower for neutropenia (2/16 studies), nausea/vomiting (1/16), and neuropathy (1/9).


The majority of the evidence suggests that chemotherapy has similar relative effectiveness and safety for patients >65 years of age versus younger patients with stage III colon cancer. When differences are reported, treatment effects are more often worse among the elderly. This review suggests that without other reasons for withholding treatment, elderly patients should receive chemotherapy as often as nonelderly patients.

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