New Look at a Misnamed Cancer

Appendix cancer different from colon cancer

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) You may never have heard of this type. Cancer of the appendix is usually thought to be a colon cancer, since the useless organ is part of the 5-6 foot long tube that follows the small intestine.  

New views are showing that appendix malignancies are different, though.

While rare, affecting only about 2,500 people in the United States, cancer of the appendix is indeed different from colon cancer and needs to be treated differently. These findings could lead to more effective treatments for both cancers.

"If you're 50 or older, you should have colon cancer screenings."

Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center made this distinction after a decade-long analysis of genes. Edward A. Levine, M.D., professor of surgery and chief of the surgical oncology service at Wake Forest Baptist, spearheaded the research.

Because it's difficult to predict the course of the disease that can spread throughout the abdomen, Dr. Levine explained that his team "sought to use the tools of gene expression profiling to better understand these rare malignancies at a molecular level in order to better predict oncologic outcomes. We’ve looked at the genes that make these cancers tick, and we actually started to pick them apart for the first time,” Dr. Levine said.

Using the Wake Forest Baptist tissue bank, the researchers looked at the various patterns of expression among the different genes. The so-called "gene signatures" are very different in cancers of the appendix verses colon cancers.

“For years, however, cancer of the appendix, which is part of the colon, has been treated with the same chemotherapy treatment used for colon cancer. This study shows that we need a fresh approach to how we treat appendix cancer,” concluded Dr. Levine.

The research appears early online edition of the April, 2012 issue of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.

Conducted in collaboration with Duke University, this research was supported, in part, by a grant from Golfers Against Cancer. 

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 9, 2012
Last Updated:
March 11, 2012