Improved five-year survival for pancreatic cancer patients

nurse giving patient treatment

An extra 13 percent of pancreatic cancer patients will live for at least five years when given a combination of chemotherapy drugs compared with standard treatment, according to the results of a Cancer Research UK trial led by the University of Liverpool.

Researchers working on the major pancreatic clinical trial say this combination treatment should be the new standard of care for patients with the disease.

European trial

Doctors on the trial, taking place in many hospitals across the UK, Germany, Sweden and France, treated 732 patients who had surgery to remove their tumour. Around half of them received the chemotherapy drug gemcitabine, the standard treatment for pancreatic cancer, and the other half received a combination of gemcitabine and capecitabine.

The trial, which was set up in 2008 to address the poor pancreatic cancer survival rates, showed that 29 per cent of patients given the drug combination lived at least five years compared with only 16 per cent of patients given gemcitabine alone. There was no significant difference in side effects between the patients on the standard treatment and the combination treatment.

Valuable extra time

The latest Cancer Research UK figures show that around 9,400 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year in the UK and around 8,800 people die from the disease each year.

Trial lead, Professor John Neoptolemos at the University’s Institute of Translational Medicine, said: “This important trial shows that this drug combination could give pancreatic patients valuable extra months and even years and so will become the new treatment for patients with this disease.

“The difference in short term survival may seem modest, but improvement in long-term survival is substantial for this cancer.

“Although pancreatic cancer is difficult to treat, finding drugs that will shrink the tumour enough to make it suitable for surgery will help in the fight against this disease. We’ve learnt a lot about pancreatic cancer from our clinical trials and now this drug combination will become the new standard of care for patients with the disease.”

Steady progress

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: “Nearly 10 000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year in the UK and it remains a very difficult disease to find and treat. Despite this we are making steady progress, through trials like this one, where the use of better chemotherapy after surgery was able to increase the number of people surviving the disease.   We still have a long way to go, but Cancer Research UK is investing heavily into research to take on pancreatic cancer, and we are just starting to see the results.”

The results were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in Chigaco, Illinois, on Friday 3 June.


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