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What Is Cetuximab Used For?

Using Cetuximab for Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer occurs when cancerous cells begin in the tissue of the colon (the large intestines) or rectum. It is the second-leading cause of death from cancer in the United States. However, in recent years, the number of people who have died from the disease has decreased.
 
Like other types of cancer, colorectal cancer can spread from the colon or rectum to other areas of the body. This is called metastatic colorectal cancer, or stage IV colorectal cancer.
 
Cetuximab is only approved to treat metastatic colorectal cancer that expresses a protein called epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and is classified as K-Ras mutation-negative (wild-type). It is used to treat EGFR-expressing colorectal cancer in the following ways:
 
  • In combination with FOLFIRI chemotherapy (irinotecan, 5-fluorouracil, and leucovorin) for first-line treatment

  

  • In combination with irinotecan (Camptosar®) in people who have failed to adequately respond to irinotecan
     
  • As the only treatment in people who did not adequately respond to treatment with irinotecan and oxaliplatin (Eloxatin®) or who cannot take irinotecan.
     
When used with irinotecan, cetuximab may help shrink cancer tumors. However, there are no studies to indicate that the combination of cetuximab and irinotecan improves symptoms of cancer or helps a person with colorectal cancer live longer.
 

How Does This Medication Work?

As mentioned, cetuximab works by binding to a receptor in the body called epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). EGFR is found in normal skin cells. It is also found in head and neck, colon, and rectum cancer cells.
 
Normally, certain proteins, such as epidermal growth factor, bind to EGFR and tell cells to grow. However, cetuximab blocks these proteins from binding to EGFR, which slows down the growth of cancer cells. The medication does not cure cancer.
 
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