Current place of high-dose irinotecan chemotherapy in patients with metastatic colorectal cancer

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Irinotecan has an important place in the treatment of metastatic colorectal cancer. It was initially administered as monotherapy, but is now generally used in combination with 5-fluorouracil or targeted therapies (cetuximab or bevacizumab), with various doses.


We here review the main studies assessing irinotecan doses escalation, and discuss the potent advantages of this escalation.


Several studies have demonstrated a dose-intensity relationship for irinotecan, and high doses (up to 600 mg/m2 as monotherapy, 260 mg/m2 in combination therapy) have been used with satisfactory safety and higher objective response rates. It is possible that, in practice, some patients receive insufficient doses of irinotecan. Dose escalation could be considered in carefully selected patients: young patients with a good performance status and normal liver function. This approach could be useful in patients with liver metastases, which may become resectable in the case of a major tumour response. It is wise to perform UGT1A1 genotyping prior to dose escalation to detect patients at high risk of toxicity (genotype 7/7). The role of another laboratory parameter, which needs to be evaluated is the KRAS status of the tumour. A KRAS mutation confers resistance to cetuximab, which reduces treatment options, especially in first-line. However, in the CRYSTAL trial comparing FOLFIRI to FOLFIRI-cetuximab as first-line therapy, the presence of a KRAS mutation did not appear to influence the efficacy of FOLFIRI. The value of irinotecan dose escalation needs to be determined in this setting.


Irinotecan dose escalation is potentially of interest in highly selected patients, but this concept is only based on phase I or II trials and must be validated by a randomized trial. Its value regarding other regimens such as FOLFIRINOX or combinations with targeted therapies also needs to be determined.

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