Surrogate endpoints for overall survival in advanced colorectal cancer: a clinician's perspective

Pascal Piedbois, Jennifer Miller Croswell
Statistical Methods in Medical Research 2008, 17 (5): 519-27
Surrogate endpoints in oncology research and practice have garnered increasing attention over the past two decades. This activity has largely been driven by the promise surrogate endpoints appear to hold: the potential to get new therapies to seriously ill patients more rapidly. However, uncertainties abound. Even agreeing upon a definition of a "valid" surrogate endpoint has not been a straightforward exercise; this article begins by highlighting differences in how this term has been previously captured and applied, as well as laying out the basic criteria essential for its application in advanced colorectal cancer. Ideally, these elements include (but are not limited to) ease of measurement, rapid indication of treatment effect, and, most importantly, reliable and consistent prediction of the true impact of a treatment on the ultimate outcome of interest: overall survival. The strengths and weaknesses of current potential surrogate endpoints in advanced colorectal cancer, including performance status, carcinoembryonic antigen plasma level, overall response rate, time to progression, and disease-free survival, are each considered in turn. Finally, limitations of surrogate endpoints in the clinical setting, including challenges in extrapolation to new therapies, and the incomplete provision of information about potential adverse effects, are discussed. Work remains to be done between physicians and statisticians to bridge the gap between that which is statistically demonstrable and that which will be clinically useful.The term ;surrogate endpoint' was virtually unknown by most oncologists 15 years ago. A search in PubMed [] based on the words ;surrogate and cancer' shows that more than 2000 papers were published in medical journals in the last 20 years, with a dramatic increase of interest in the last five years. Interestingly, the same trend is observed when the words ;surrogate and heart' are entered into PubMed, suggesting that the issue of surrogate endpoints goes beyond the field of oncology, although the frequency of discussion varies (Figure 1; note different y-axis scales for oncology and cardiology).The goal of the present paper is to discuss the main issues surrounding surrogate endpoints from a clinician's point of view, using as an example surrogate endpoints of overall survival (OS) in advanced colorectal cancer (ACC).

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