Researchers have found a treatment for metastatic pancreatic cancer (that has spread beyond the pancreas) which slows down the progression of the tumour for some patients.

People with BRCA gene mutations, responsible for around 10% of all pancreatic cancer cases, were given Olaparib alongside chemotherapy in a stage three clinical trial.

These trials are the gold standard of research and aim to compare new treatments to existing ones across multiple locations where neither the researchers nor the participants know who is receiving the treatment.

Results from studies like this can provide important results that have the potential to inform new patient treatments, which is why this research is so exciting.


Treating cancer patients with BRCA mutations

Patients with BRCA gene mutations are more likely to be diagnosed with a number of cancers, including pancreatic. This is because the mechanisms to repair any damage to their cells is broken or impaired and can lead to tumours forming. This can also affect the treatment options that these patients are given. Some types of chemotherapy may be more effective for these patients then others, and therefore all participants in the trial were given a platinum-based chemotherapy. This works by blocking the cancer cells from functioning and has been shown to be effective for many patients with BRCA gene mutations.

Some patients then received the drug Olaparib to try and stop the cancer from growing or spreading any further. All patients in the trial had disease that had spread beyond their pancreas and therefore the focus of treatment is to slow down cancer progression to improve quality of life as well as extend it. Olaparib is a type of drug known as a PARP inhibitor and works by stopping damaged cancer cells from repairing themselves. These drugs have previously been used in the treatment of other BRCA related cancers such as ovarian with some good effect.


Results

For those treated with Olaparib, there was a significant increase in the amount of the time that patients lived without progression of their disease compared to controls. 22% of patients treated with Olaparib had no progression in their disease after two years, compared with 9.6% of controls who were treated with chemotherapy alone. This is a significant result with the potential to prolong quality of life and life expectancy in patients with BRCA mutations and advanced metastatic pancreatic cancer.

These results are very promising for patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer and BRCA gene mutations. But it is important to remember that they are not applicable to every patient with pancreatic cancer. All cancer treatments come with side effects and every patient is different. Common side effects of Olaparib include increased infections, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, fatigue, headaches and dizziness.


What is next?

The results of this trial are very promising for the use of Olaparib in patients with BRCA related pancreatic cancer. Before the drug can be used routinely on patients, it will have to go through a regulatory process and be licensed by the relevant medicine’s agency.


About Pancreatic Cancer Action

Our focus is on early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, however, this is not a straightforward problem and therefore, there is no simple fix or solution. Pancreatic Cancer Action takes multiple steps to increase early diagnosis of the disease, but these must work together to be successful.  

What we do:

  • We work closely with MPs and policy makers to lobby for early diagnosis and tell the stories of people such as our founder, Ali Stunt, who are diagnosed in time for surgery
  • PCA raise the profile of pancreatic cancer and try to encourage more research funding into early diagnosis of the disease
  • We produce public awareness campaigns to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer and encourage patients to present to healthcare providers as early as possible
  • We also inform the public regarding their individual risk of pancreatic cancer so they can understand the importance of knowing the symptoms
  • We provide free awareness materials and resources to healthcare professionals to increase their knowledge of pancreatic cancer and to help them to feel more confident in speaking to patients and making a diagnosis.

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