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Pancreatic cancer research

Find out about the latest UK research and clinical trials looking at pancreatic cancer.

Research into the causes of cancer

Cancer of the pancreas is often diagnosed when it is quite advanced and difficult to treat. Researchers want to learn more about why pancreatic cancer starts and what helps it to grow.

To do this, there is a trial collecting samples of tissue from people who have pancreatic cancer and from people who don’t. Doctors hope that a better understanding of how pancreatic cancer develops might lead to better treatments in the future.

Tests to diagnose pancreatic cancer

Scientists are researching a new test that may help diagnose pancreatic cancer. This is called the Mcm5 protein test. Mcm stands for minichromosome maintenance protein. The researchers have to take a biopsy from your pancreas and test it for this protein. 

Blood tests 

Researchers are looking at how a blood test measuring a tumour marker called CA199 might be useful for diagnosing pancreatic cancer. 

Research into treatment

Researchers are always looking into ways to improve treatment, reduce side effects, and control symptoms.

This is a large programme of research aiming to understand more about the individual make up of pancreatic cancers. The researchers want to collect samples of pancreatic cancer tissue to examine its genetic make up. 

Genes contain coded messages that tell cells how to behave. They control the growth and development of cells. 

The researchers hope that understanding more about the genetic make up of pancreatic cancers will help doctors decide the best treatment. The researchers also want to learn more about when, how and why people develop pancreatic cancer. And to predict who is more at risk of developing it.

The researchers are doing their research in 2 stages. The PRECISION Panc study is stage 1. Based on the information from the tissue samples, they will ask people to join a study to have treatment in stage 2.

In stage 2, the researchers will look at new treatments for pancreatic cancer.

  • PRIMUS 001 for people with pancreatic cancer that has spread
  • PRMUS 002 for people with pancreatic cancer that can be removed with surgery
  • PRIMUS 003 for people having their 2nd treatment for pancreatic cancer that has spread elsewhere in the body

This treatment uses needles to pass electrical current to the cancer cells. This destroys the cancer cells. Your doctor might call this Nanoknife. 

This treatment is not a standard treatment in the UK. You might have it as part of a clinical trial.

We need much more research about how this treatment might work in pancreatic cancer. 

Before surgery (neoadjuvant)

Chemotherapy before surgery is called neo adjuvant treatment. The idea is that the treatment might shrink the cancer and make it easier to remove with surgery. Several studies have shown that neo adjuvant treatment may be helpful for pancreatic cancer. But more research is needed to get a fuller picture of how well neo adjuvant treatment works, and what the best treatment is.

After surgery (adjuvant)

Researchers are looking at how combinations of chemotherapy and targeted cancer treatments might be useful in pancreatic cancer. These combinations include:

  • teysuno and capecitabine 
  • gemcitabine and acelerin
  • gemcitabine and capecitabine

Stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT) directs radiotherapy beams at the cancer from different positions around the body. It accurately delivers a high dose of treatment to the cancer, while surrounding tissue only receives a low dose. 

Doctors are looking at using SBRT to shrink pancreatic cancer before surgery.

The chemotherapy drugs used with radiotherapy, for example capecitabine or 5FU, are radiosensitisers. You have them to make the cancer more sensitive to the radiotherapy.

Doctors want to see if giving a drug called nelfinavir with capecitabine and radiotherapy makes the treatment better.

Targeted cancer drugs work by ‘targeting’ those differences that help a cancer to survive and grow. There are many different targets on cancer cells and many different drugs that target them. They work in different ways. 

One type of targeted cancer drug is called a PARP inhibitor. They stop an enzyme called PARP-1 from working. This enzyme helps to repair the DNA in cells when it is damaged. DNA controls growth, development and how the body works. Cancer cells have damaged DNA and rely on PARP to repair them. As PARP inhibitors stop PARP -1 from repairing DNA damage, the cancer cells die. 

Olaparib is a type of PARP inhibitor. Researchers are looking at how Olaparib might help chemotherapy and radiotherapy work better. 

Trials are trying to find out how Olaparib might work in pancreatic cancer with different gene changes (mutations).

Last reviewed: 
13 Oct 2017
  • Cancer Research UK clinical trials database
    Accessed October 2017

  • Recent progress in pancreatic cancer
    CL Wolfgang, JM Herman, DA Laheru and others.
    CA A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 2013. 63 (5): 318-348

  • The role of irreversible electroporation (IRE) for locally advanced pancreatic cancer: a systematic review of safety and efficacy

    D Ansari and others (2017) 

    Scandinavian journal of gastroenterology Volume 52, 2017 - Issue 11

  • Multi-disciplinary management of locally advanced pancreatic cancer with irreversible electroporation

    R Martin (2017) 

    Journal of surgical oncology Jul;116(1):35-45

  • Diagnostic value of CA19.9, circulating tumour DNA and circulating tumour cells in patients with solid pancreatic tumours

    Sefrioui D and others (2017) 

    British journal of cancer Sep 26;117(7):1017-1025

  • Diagnosis of pancreaticobiliary malignancy by detection of minichromosome maintenance protein 5 in biliary brush cytology

    M Keane and others (2017) 

    Britihs journal of cancer 116, 349–355

  • The radiosensitizing effects of Nelfinavir on pancreatic cancer with and without pancreaticstellate cells

    O Al- Assar and others (2016) 

    Radiotherapy and oncology: jouranl of the european society for therapeutic radiology and oncology May;119(2):300-5

  • Genomic instability in pancreatic adenocarcinoma: a new step towards precision medicine and novel therapeutic approaches

    I Sahin and others (2016) 

    Expert review of gastroenterology and hepatology Aug;10(8):893-905

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