Hope for pancreatic cancer cure as scientists find giving treatment in a different order lets patients live for FIVE TIMES longer
- Giving patients chemo and radiotherapy before surgery could improve survival
- The therapy was tested on people whose cancer spread to their arteries
- These patients are usually not offered surgery because the disease is advanced
- Researchers hope they have found a new way to tackle the deadliest cancer
Giving pancreatic cancer patients chemotherapy and radiotherapy before surgery could help them live five times as long, a trial has found.
Doctors believe they’ve discovered new hope, and even a cure, for people who develop the deadly disease.
Pancreatic cancer is the most dangerous form of the illness and kills almost 80 per cent of people within a year, and more than 97 per cent within five years.
By simply changing the order in which patients are given treatments which already exist, the researchers believe they could add more than four years of life.
Dr Mark Truty, who led a trial of the treatment on 194 pancreatic cancer patients who had been told they were terminally ill, said he wants to be able to ‘cure’ people with the disease
Doctors and researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota trialled their revamped treatment on 194 terminally ill patients.
Each had been given less than 18 months to live and many told their cancer was inoperable because the tumours had spread into major veins and arteries.
But a team led by Dr Mark Truty found that, if given chemotherapy and radiotherapy and then operated on, the patients lived for an average of almost five years – and more than half of them are still alive.
The Telegraph, which spoke to Dr Truty, said some of the patients from the trial may even be cured of the disease.
Dr Truty said: ‘Until recently pancreatic cancer has really been a death sentence and it’s had a bad stigma for decades with good reason, but we’re trying to change that stigma.’
The therapy uses chemo and radiation to destroy as much cancer as possible, then surgery to remove the rest and rebuild damaged blood vessels.
And it has almost reversed the odds of the survival for the no-hope patients.
While typically 97 per cent of patients would die within five years, in Dr Truty’s seven-year study, 90 per cent were still alive after that time.
The average survival time for people who have died since treatment at the clinic was 58.8 months – but more than half are still alive.
Dr Truty explained: ‘We gave chemotherapy prior to surgery and we found that the more chemo they get the longer they live.
‘About 90 per cent of patients were alive at five years. These are numbers you haven’t seen before.’
Patients whose cancer has spread into their arteries and veins are not usually offered surgery because it is deemed too hard to remove the disease.
Damage to surrounding arteries is also difficult to repair, and Dr Truty used tissue from elsewhere in the body to construct new blood vessels.
This therapy was only tested on patients whose cancers had not spread to other organs, who make up around a third of patients.
Its success varied among patients depending on how they respond to chemotherapy.
The longer a patient could endure chemotherapy and the more damaged their cancer was by the time they had surgery, the better their survival.
‘I’m extremely excited about these results,’ Dr Truty added.
He told The Telegraph: ‘I want to be able to say I can guarantee that 50 per cent of people can have surgery and live for a lot longer, perhaps even be cured.’
Pancreatic cancer affects around 10,000 people in the UK each year and 55,000 in the US.
In response to the findings, Anna Jewell, director of research at Pancreatic Cancer UK said: ‘More evidence is still needed to help us understand how best to use chemotherapy and radiotherapy to make more people in this particular group of patients eligible for surgery but the emerging evidence is showing a real opportunity to improve overall survival, which has been appallingly low for 40 years.
‘Currently only one in 10 pancreatic cancer patients has surgery – the only potential cure for this devastating disease – because many are simply not treated fast enough.
‘A clinical pathway is not in place across the UK to match the ferocity of pancreatic cancer.
‘We need to see significant changes to how treatment is delivered if patients are to benefit from new developments in our understanding of how best to take on pancreatic cancer.’
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