Targeted cancer drugs and immunotherapy for pancreatic cancer
Targeted cancer drugs work by targeting the differences in cancer cells that help them to grow and survive. Other drugs help the immune system to attack the cancer. They are called immunotherapies.
You might have one of these treatments if your cancer has a
You generally have to be quite fit and well to have some of these drugs. Your doctor will tell you if this treatment may be an option for you.
Tests on your pancreatic cancer cells
Doctors are increasingly testing to check for changes in genes (mutations) or certain proteins that help the cancer grow. They may look for changes in the:
- neurotrophic tyrosine receptor kinase (NTRK) gene
- changes in other genes involved in
They usually test a sample of your pancreatic cancer tissue from when you were first diagnosed. Or from your operation if you had one.
The results of the tests may show whether a targeted cancer drug or immunotherapy is suitable for you.
Targeted cancer drugs
NTRK gene change
If your cancer has an NTRK gene change, there are drugs available to treat locally advanced or metastatic pancreatic cancer when there are no other treatment options. They are:
- larotrectinib (Vitrakvi)
- entrectinib (Rozlytrek)
How do you have larotrectinib and entrectinib?
Larotrectinib is a capsule or liquid that you swallow. You have this twice a day.
Entrectinib is a capsule that you swallow. You take this once a day.
You have these medicines for as long as the treatment is working. And you are not getting too many side effects.
We have information about each of these drugs on our cancer drugs A to Z list.
Drugs that help the body's immune system (immunotherapy)
Immunotherapy can help the body's natural defence system (immune system) to find and destroy pancreatic cancer cells.
Nivolumab is a type of immunotherapy called a
You may have nivolumab if your cancer has DNA changes called
Microsatellites are short, repeating arrangements (sequences) of DNA inside cells. Every time a cell divides, it makes new copies of these DNA sequences. Cells can correct any mistakes that happen in this process. Mismatch repair proteins identify and repair any mistakes made when cells make copies of DNA.
But if these mismatch repair processes are faulty, mistakes can happen when the cell divides. This causes changes in the new copies of DNA. Changes in the length of the new DNA sequence are called microsatellite instability. These changes can cause cells to grow abnormally.
Knowing if there are any of these DNA changes helps your doctor plan your treatment.
You might have nivolumab if your tests show you have either:
- a high level of microsatellite instability (MSI-high)
- no mismatch repair genes identified (mismatch repair deficient, dMMR)
Understanding the medical terms for some of the results is quite complicated. Your doctor or nurse will explain what it means if you have these changes in your cancer.
Targeted cancer drugs and immunotherapy drugs can cause different side effects. Some of these can be serious. Your doctor or nurse will talk to you about this. Always tell them about any side effects you have and follow the advice they give you.
Choose a drug on our A to Z list to read about side effects.
Research into targeted and immunotherapy drugs for pancreatic cancer
Researchers are trying to find better treatments for pancreatic cancer. This includes learning more about the genetic make-up of individual cancers and developing different types of targeted drugs and immunotherapies.
They are looking at these drugs on their own or combined with other treatments.
New treatments are tested in clinical trials, so ask your doctor if there are any trials suitable for you