Thousands of cancer patients are able to DOUBLE their survival chances with new treatment

Pancreatic cancer cells

People suffering from pancreatic can can double their survival chances

It is one of the biggest cancer killers with 9,000 people dying from it every year in the UK. Brits suffering from deadly pancreatic cancer can almost double their chances of survival by switching to a new dual drug treatment.

Survival rates have always been shockingly poor – only a fifth of those diagnosed are still alive after 12 months.

But now doctors at the world’s biggest cancer conference in Chicago are hailing a radical new combination drug regime which could see thousands more survive.

Combining two chemotherapy drugs boosted the number of patients alive following surgery to remove their tumour, according to the new study presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Pancreatic cancer cell
Combining two chemo drugs could double patients’ survival chances

In the new Cancer Research UK study, 732 Brit pancreatic cancer patients who had undergone surgery to remove their tumour were divided into two groups.

The first received the chemotherapy drug gemcitabine (Gemzar) – the standard treatment for pancreatic cancer – while the other half received a combination of gemcitabine and capecitabine (Xeloda).

The results showed that around 85% of people given both drugs were still alive after one year.

Read more: Pancreatic cancer diagnoses to soar to 12,000 a year in UK by 2030

Prof John Neoptolemos, of the University of Liverpool. described this as “unusual” for pancreatic cancer.

Almost 60% of patients were still alive after two years while impressive results were seen after five years.

Almost a third (29%) of patients given the drug combination lived at least five years compared with only 16% given gemcitabine alone – almost double the rate when you compare the new combination to the standard one.

Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in a scene from "Dirty Dancing"
Patrick Swayze, who died from pancreatic cancer, and Jennifer Grey in a scene from “Dirty Dancing”

There were no significant differences in side effects between the patients on the standard treatment and the combination treatment.

Prof Neoptolemos said the results were “overwhelmingly good” and called for patients to be switched to the new regime, which will have a low cost for the NHS.

He added: “In the 1970s and 80s, people said you shouldn’t operate on pancreatic cancer because it was a waste of time to treat these patients at all.

“In the space of 20 or 30 years we’ve made a huge leap. This shows us it is a tumour we can get our head around.”

Prof Neoptolemos, who is the clinical lead for new guidelines currently being drawn up by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), added: “The view has been that chemotherapy doesn’t work in pancreatic cancer but this shows we shouldn’t close the door on chemotherapy.”

“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.”

Pancreatic Cancer Action

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A further clinical trial is now underway to see if the drug combination can help shrink tumours in people whose pancreatic cancer is considered to be borderline for surgery.

If their tumours can be shrunk, these patients may be suitable for surgery,

which would significantly boost their chances of survival.

Prof 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.”

A NICE spokesperson said: “We have started work on a new guideline for pancreatic cancer and this research could be considered alongside all the best available evidence.”