What you must know — and what’s useful to know

In order to identify trials that might be a treatment option for you, there are several pieces of information you must know about your cancer and any treatments you may already have had. In addition, there are a number of things that it would be useful to know.

We’ll walk you through the difference here — and tell you how to find them out if you don’t already have this information on hand.

If you are newly diagnosed, or want a good starting point for understanding colon or rectal cancer, check out these Patient Guides from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN). Or check out our CRC 101 Learning Center!

So let’s get started!

Must know

1. What stage is your cancer?

Check out information on staging from the American Cancer Society.

2. Is your cancer MSS or MSI-H?

This is important information that your doctor should be able to tell you. 

Check out our section on MSS/MSI-H, if you want a good starting point. 

3. What treatments have you already had?

You will need a list of any treatments you have had: specific chemotherapy drugs, radiation, surgeries. You’ll also need a basic timeline of when you received these (within the last several months, for example).

Here’s a description of common treatments for colorectal cancer from Cancer.net, provided by the American Society for Clinical Oncology.

Why does this matter?

Most clinical trials have eligibility criteria — a list of statements that define which patients can and cannot participate. These requirements help make sure that participants in a trial are like each other in terms of specific factors such as age, type and stage of cancer, general health, and previous treatment. When all participants meet the same eligibility criteria, it’s more likely that results of the study are caused by the intervention being tested (and not by other factors, or by chance!)

Useful to know

1. Tumor genomic profile

Your tumor can be tested for genetic alterations (mutations) that may impact what treatments and trials are an option for you. This testing may have been done when you were first diagnosed, and can be repeated after treatment, as the results can change.

Check out the biomarker section for some more information on this important topic.

2. Tumor mutational burden (TMB)

This is the total number of mutations found in the DNA of cancer cells. Knowing the tumor mutational burden may help plan the best treatment. 

For example, tumors that have a high number of mutations appear to be more likely to respond to certain types of immunotherapy.

TMB can be determined using a technique called next generation sequencing (NGS). There are several options now available. This may be most useful for stage IV patients and should be discussed with your care team.