An American study released today has shown promising results for a subsection of people with pancreatic cancer and could help patients to live longer after diagnosis.
Patients with locally advanced* pancreatic cancer, that which has spread to the veins and arteries around the pancreas but not to other organs, were the focus group of the research. Chemotherapy was given to these patients before surgery to kill cancer cells and shrink the tumours enough to remove them. This kind of treatment is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy as it takes place before surgery and is not routinely given to patients with pancreatic cancer.
was given to patients with locally advanced cancer, some of whom would normally be considered to have inoperable and therefore incurable tumours. Patients were given several rounds of chemotherapy treatment and researchers believe that the more chemotherapy given before surgery, the longer patients survived. During surgery, veins and arteries affected by the cancer were removed and reconstructed from elsewhere in the body.
At the end of the trial, patients who were originally given 12-18 months to live had an increased survival time of an average of 4.9 years. One of the study authors Dr Mark Truty described the importance of these results for this group of patients saying, “We want people to say, I have pancreatic cancer and I have options.”
He went on to explain that this treatment goes some way towards making that reality for many patients who previously would not have had the option of surgery.
What does this mean?
This, alongside other studies and clinical trials currently taking place suggests that chemotherapy before surgery can be beneficial and improve survival in some patients with pancreatic cancer. 5-year survival is currently around 7% and less then 20% of patients are currently able to have surgery- the only potential cure. If patients with locally advanced cancer can have chemotherapy to kill the cancer cells and allow them to have surgery, this is a step towards improving survival.
The research shows that thinking about treating pancreatic cancer needs ideas and innovation, survival will not improve if we continue to think about the disease the way we do now.
It also demonstrates the importance of early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. The smaller the tumour, the less it is likely to have spread to other parts of the body and the better the chance of successful removal.
*Locally advanced cancer is used to describe cancer that has grown outside the organ it started in, but has not yet spread to distant parts of the body.