Preoperative UFT/Leucovorin and Radiation Therapy in Rectal Cancer

OncologyONCOLOGY Vol 14 No 10
Volume 14
Issue 10

The use of combined modality regimens has been well established in the treatment of stages II and III rectal cancer. The most common chemotherapy regimens used include continuous-infusion 5-FU delivered with the help of a central venous catheter and the use of portable pumps.

ABSTRACT: The use of combined modality regimens has been well established in the treatment of stages II and III rectal cancer. The most common chemotherapy regimens used include continuous-infusion 5-FU delivered with the help of a central venous catheter and the use of portable pumps. These regimens are expensive and can potentially develop line problems. The availability of the oral agent UFT in combination with oral leucovorin prompted the development of an all-oral chemotherapy regimen that could be combined with radiotherapy. At The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, we routinely use combined chemotherapy and radiotherapy preoperatively for the treatment of rectal cancers, and decided to conduct a phase I trial in which UFT and leucovorin was used instead of the conventional 5-FU. The preliminary results are encouraging and seem to demonstrate the feasibility of this approach. [ONCOLOGY 14(Suppl 9):56-58, 2000]


In the year 2000, approximately 36,400 patients in the United States will be diagnosed with rectal cancer.[1] Despite surgical resection, a significant number of these patients will be candidates for further adjuvant treatments. Since the 1980s, the role of postoperative pelvic radiation and fluorouracil (5-FU)-based chemotherapy for patients with stages II and III adenocarcinomas of the rectum has become well established.[2,3] Continuous infusion 5-FU has proven to be superior to bolus 5-FU schedules when given during radiation.[4]

The modulation of 5-FU by leucovorin produced increased response rates in metastatic colorectal cancer patients.[5] However, the results were similar for patients with rectal cancer undergoing postoperative radiation with bolus 5-FU alone or in combination with leucovorin (calcium folinate), levamisole (Ergomisol), or both.[6] The optimal timing as well as the optimal regimen for the adjuvant treatment of rectal cancer remains unclear.[7]

Over the past few years, a considerable number of oral fluoropyrimidines have been investigated for the treatment of colorectal cancer. Oral fluoropyrimidines represent an attractive and convenient alternative to intravenous 5-FU.[8] In addition, oral chemotherapy may circumvent the problems and costs associated with central venous lines and portable infusion pumps.


Tegafur is a prodrug converted to 5-FU by the hepatic microsomal system.[9] It was initially evaluated in the 1970s by the National Cancer Institute. Studies of intravenous tegafur demonstrated objective responses in solid tumors, but the severe toxicity halted its development in the United States. Japanese researchers, on the other hand, took advantage of the drug’s good oral bioavailability, and split the oral dosing, which led to a significant improvement in its toxicity profile. Objective responses were then observed in a variety of solid tumors.

Further research produced the combination of uracil with tegafur (UFT), in a fixed molar ratio of 4:1. Uracil is a competitive inhibitor of dihydropyrimidine dehydrogenase (DPD), the chief catabolic enzyme of 5-FU. The inhibition of DPD by uracil results in elevated and well-maintained concentrations of 5-FU.[10,11] Preclinical experiments confirmed that leucovorin combined with UFT has enhanced antitumor activity.[12] This combination is currently undergoing evaluation in various solid tumors.

UFT plus oral leucovorin (a combination being developed under the trade name Orzel) has been investigated in the treatment of advanced colorectal cancer, and has produced objective response rates ranging from 25% to 42%.[9] Preliminary results from two large randomized studies in patients with metastatic colorectal cancer suggest that UFT plus leucovorin may be equivalent to bolus 5-FU plus leucovorin in terms of response rates and survival.[13,14] UFT plus leucovorin is generally well tolerated, with diarrhea, nausea, and anorexia being the most frequent adverse events. Grade 3 or 4 diarrhea was observed in 4% to 21% of patients.[9,13,14] However, UFT plus leucovorin is not associated with significant myelosuppression, mucositis, hand-foot syndrome, or alopecia.

Preoperative UFT/Leucovorin in Rectal Cancer

Based on the encouraging results reported from trials of preoperative (neoadjuvant) chemoradiation trials,[15-17] this treatment modality is routinely used at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center for patients with stages II and III rectal cancer. Advantages associated with preoperative adjuvant therapy include an in vivo evaluation of drug efficacy, an intact blood supply to the tumor, and a reduced amount of small bowel in the radiated field. In addition, the potential for sphincter preservation with this approach represents a major advantage. The main disadvantage of preoperative therapy is its limited ability to stage the tumor pathologically.

Pharmacokinetic studies comparing 5-FU levels obtained with protracted infusions of 5-FU with those obtained with oral UFT have demonstrated a similar area-under-the-curve for both agents, with higher peak levels of 5-FU associated with UFT.[11] Although UFT plus leucovorin has been administered to many patients, relatively little is known about the combination of these agents and radiation for rectal cancer. The primary goal of our ongoing trial is to investigate the antitumor efficacy and safety of a preoperative regimen of UFT plus leucovorin combined with radiation in patients with rectal cancer. This regimen might prove to be less toxic, more cost-effective, and a convenient adjuvant treatment for these patients.

Patient Eligibility and Pretreatment Evaluation

Patients with histologically confirmed rectal cancer for whom adjuvant chemotherapy and radiation are indicated (ie, those with T3 or T4 lesions, or nodal involvement as evidenced by endoscopy) are eligible for the study. Other eligibility criteria include the ability to tolerate major surgery, age over 18 years, Zubrod performance status of 0 to 2, normal renal, hepatic, and hematologic functions, and a life expectancy > 3 months. Patients with distant metastasis or prior malignancies, those who have had major surgery within the previous 3 weeks, and pregnant or nursing women are ineligible. Written informed consent must be provided prior to study enrollment.

A complete medical history and physical examination are obtained at baseline, and all patients undergo a complete blood count, chemistry profile including liver and renal function tests, electrocardiogram, chest radiograph, serum level of carcinoembryonic antigen, and urinalysis. Complete blood counts are obtained weekly throughout treatment.

Treatment Program

Each group of three patients receives an escalating dose of oral UFT (starting at 250 mg/m²/d) and a fixed dose of oral leucovorin (90 mg/d), both of which are administered in three daily doses for 5 consecutive days. Table 1 presents the UFT dose-escalation schedule. Radiation therapy is delivered to the pelvis in daily fractions of 180 cGy on the same 5 days as the chemotherapy is administered. A 2-day rest follows, then the 7-day cycle is repeated for a total of 5 weeks. The total dose of radiation is 4,500 cGy. Surgical resection is performed 4 to 6 weeks after the completion of chemoradiation.

Four weeks after surgery, patients receive fixed doses of UFT (300 mg/m²/d) and leucovorin (90 mg/d) in three daily doses for 28 consecutive days, followed by a 7-day rest period, as previously recommended.[18] This 35-day cycle is repeated four times. At dose levels 0, –1, and –2, the postoperative dose of UFT is 250 mg/m²/d. Figure 1 outlines the overall treatment plan.

Standard antiemetic therapy is prescribed as required. Antidiarrheal drugs are not allowed prophylactically, but may be used for symptomatic treatment of grade 2 or higher diarrhea. Toxicity is recorded weekly according to the National Cancer Institute Common Toxicity Criteria. If grade 2 or higher toxicity develops, therapy is halted and not resumed until all symptoms have completely resolved. Days lost due to withheld therapy are not made up and are counted as treatment days.

This phase I trial follows the usual “3 plus 3” method, where cohorts of three patients are entered at each dose level. If two or three of the patients in dose level 0 develop grade 3 or 4 toxicity, a new cohort is treated at the lower dose level. If zero or one patient develops grade 3 or 4 toxicity, three more patients are treated at the same dose level. If up to two of six patients develop grade 3 or 4 toxicity, escalation continues. If three or more patients develop grade 3 or 4 toxicity, the next cohort of three patients is entered at the next lower dose level. The maximum tolerated dose is the dose level that is immediately below the one producing dose-limiting toxicity in two or more of three patients, or three or more of six patients.

Preliminary Results and Conclusions

As of this writing, 11 patients have been entered into this trial. Dose escalation of UFT up to 350 mg/m2/d has been achieved. Diarrhea is the predominant toxicity at this level, but is adequately controlled with conventional antidiarrheal agents. Both chemotherapy and pelvic radiation could be completed on schedule in all patients.

This phase I study will determine the tolerability of a preoperative, combined-modality, adjuvant treatment that includes UFT plus leucovorin and radiation therapy. The potential for sphincter preservation and the convenience of oral chemotherapy make this approach an attractive alternative in the adjuvant treatment of patients with rectal cancer that is penetrating through the bowel wall or involving regional lymph nodes. Further studies are necessary to better define the role of preoperative chemoradiation in rectal cancer, especially in terms of its comparability to 5-FU–based, postoperative, adjuvant chemoradiation.


1. Greenlee RT, Murray T, Bolden S, et al: Cancer statistics, 2000. CA Cancer J Clin 50:7-31, 2000.

2. Douglas HO Jr, Moertel CG, Mayer RJ, et al: Survival after postoperative combination treatment of rectal cancer. N Engl J Med 315:1294-1295, 1986.

3. Krook JE, Moertel CG, Gunderson LL, et al: Effective surgical adjuvant therapy for high-risk rectal carcinoma. N Engl J Med 324:709-715, 19991.

4. O’Connell MJ, Martenson JA, Wieand HS, et al: Improving adjuvant therapy for rectal cancer by combining protracted-infusion fluorouracil with radiation therapy after curative surgery. N Engl J Med 331:502-507, 1994.

5. Advanced Colorectal Cancer Meta-Analysis Project: Modulation of fluorouracil by leucovorin in patients with advanced colorectal cancer: Evidence in terms of response rates. J Clin Oncol 10:896-903, 1992.

6. Tepper JE, O’Connell MJ, Petroni GR, et al: Adjuvant postoperative fluorouracil-modulated chemotherapy combined with pelvic radiation therapy for rectal cancer: Initial results of Intergroup 0114. J Clin Oncol 15:2030-2039, 1997.

7. Minsky BD: Adjuvant postoperative combined-modality therapy for rectal cancer. Oncology (Huntington) 13(suppl 3):132-135, 1999.

8. Liu G, Franssen E, Fitch MI, Warner E: Patient preference for oral vs intravenous palliative chemotherapy. J Clin Oncol 15:110-115, 1997.

9. Hoff PM, Pazdur R, Benner SE, et al: UFT and leucovorin: A review of its clinical development and therapeutic potential in the oral treatment of cancer. Anticancer Drugs 9:479-490, 1998.

10. Hirata K, Sasaki K, Yamamitsu S, Shiraska T: A comparison of 5-fluorouracil concentration of 5-fluorouracil drip infusion vs oral UFT in plasma of same patients [in Japanese]. Jpn J Cancer Chemother 20:1409-1411, 1993.

11. Ho DH, Pazdur R, Covington W, et al: Comparison of 5-fluorouracil pharmacokinetics in patients receiving continuous infusion and oral uracil plus N1-(2´-tetrahydrofuryl)-5-fluorouracil. Clin Cancer Res 4:2085-2088, 1998.

12. Okabe H, Toko T, Saito H, et al: Augmentation of the chemotherapeutic effectiveness of UFT, a combination of tegafur [1-(2-tetrahydrofuryl)-5-fluorouracil] with uracil, by oral 1-leucovorin. Anticancer Res 17:157-164, 1997.

13. Pazdur R, Douillard J-Y, Skillings JR, et al: Multicenter phase III study of 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) UFT in combination with leucovorin (LV) in patients with metastatic colorectal cancer (abstract 1009). Proc Am Soc Clin Oncol 18:263, 1999.

14. Carmichael J, Popiela T, Radstone D, et al: Randomized comparative study of ORZEL (oral uracil/tegafur [UFT] plus leucovorin [LV]) vs parenteral 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) in patients with metastatic colorectal cancer (abstract 1015). Proc Am Soc Clin Oncol 18:264a, 1999.

15. Wagman R, Minsky BD, Cohen AM, et al: Sphincter preservation in rectal cancer with preoperative radiation therapy and coloanal anastomosis: Long- term follow-up. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 42:51-57, 1998.

16. Rich TA: Infusional chemoradiation for operable rectal cancer: Post-, pre-, or nonoperative management? Oncology (Huntington) 11:295-300, 1997.

17. Minsky BD: Sphincter preservation in rectal cancer. Preoperative radiation therapy followed by low anterior resection with coloanal anastomosis. Semin Radiat Oncol 8:30-35, 1998.

18. Pazdur R, Lassere Y, Rhodes V, et al: Phase II trial of uracil and tegafur plus oral leucovorin: An effective oral regimen in the treatment of metastatic colorectal carcinoma. J Clin Oncol 12:2296-2300, 1994.

Related Videos
Rates of obesity appear to correlate with increasing incidence of cancer in young populations, according to Monique Gary, DO, MSc, FACS.
Data from a ctDNA analysis of the phase 3 INTRIGUE study indicate that KIT mutational status may be associated with response to certain Tyrosine kinase inhibitors in GIST, according to an expert from the Yale Cancer Center in New Haven, Massachusetts.
Future research into the management of unresectable hepatocellular carcinoma may involve combining local therapies with checkpoint inhibitors like durvalumab and tremelimumab, according to Ghassan K. Abou-Alda, MD.
Patients with unresectable hepatocellular carcinoma who have recurrent disease following surgery or locally advanced diseases who will likely progress on local therapy may have an opportunity to benefit from tremelimumab and durvalumab following its FDA approval, according to Ghassan K. Abou-Alfa, MD.
Ghassan K. Abou-Alfa, MD, discusses the importance of improving access to novel therapies and combinations for patients with hepatocellular carcinoma across the world.
Ghassan K. Abou-Alfa, MD, spoke about the recent approval of tremelimumab plus durvalumab for patients with unresectable hepatocellular carcinoma, based on results from the phase 3 HIMALAYA trial.
Howard A. Burris, MD, highlighted previous findings of the phase 3 TOPAZ-1 trial assessing durvalumab plus gemcitabine and cisplatin vs placebo plus gemcitabine and cisplatin in advanced biliary tract cancer and patient-reported outcomes (PRO)data that were presented at 2022 ASCO.
Shubham Pant, MD discusses key findings from a basket trial examining the use of erdafitinib in patients with gastrointestinal cancers.
Related Content