New pancreatic cancer drug ‘a monumental leap forward’

A new pancreatic cancer drug significantly extends survival time for patients who have undergone surgery, according to a report published in The Lancet.

The study found that 29 per cent of patients given a combination of two chemotherapy drugs (capecitabine and gemcitabine) lived for at least five years, compared with 16 per cent who received the single drug (gemcitabine) the NHS provides as standard.

The study involved 732 patients from 92 hospitals across Europe. Taken together the two drugs increased median survival from 25 and a half months to 28 months.

Pancreatic cancer is the most lethal form of the disease. Just one in 100 people survive for more than 10 years after diagnosis.

Leanne Reynolds, head of research at the charity Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: ‘These results are a monumental leap forward in pancreatic cancer treatment. We believe this could herald a true step change in the treatment of this tough cancer, offering substantially more patients who have had surgery the chance to live for longer and, crucially, without significant added side effects.’

Professor John Neoptolemos, who led the study, said: ‘This is one of the biggest ever breakthroughs prolonging survival for pancreatic cancer patients. When this combination becomes the new standard of care it will give many patients living with the disease valuable months and even years.

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

Instant analysis
Pancreatic cancer is one of the cancers where it can be especially difficult to break the news to a patient. This is because by the time of diagnosis it is often difficult to treat, so out of the 10,000 people diagnosed with it each year in the UK only 800 are suitable for surgery. It has the lowest survival rate for the usual types of cancer seen in this country, with only one per cent of people surviving 10 years or more after diagnosis.

This gloomy state of affairs may today seem slightly less bleak following the results of this study. Taken together, these two drugs — a combination of gemcitabine and capecitabine — should now be the new standard of care following surgery for pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma.

Let us hope that the NHS is not slow in recommending this as standard treatment compared to gemcitabine alone in the one in 12 sufferers of the disease who undergo resection of their pancreas.
RH
Research score: 4/5


  • James Wood

    Thank you, although your article neglects to mention that just under 70% of patients present with tumours too far advanced to attempt resection: i.e. this news will not help them. So whilst this news is welcome, the need for better biomarkers/tests and much earlier detection is what’s required most of all. Progress is being made here, too.