Early trial results show survival improvement for pancreatic cancer

Cancer Research UK

Adding a new chemotherapy drug to standard treatment for advanced pancreatic cancer has shown dramatic improvement in survival, a new study from Cancer Research UK reveals today (Wednesday).

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most difficult cancers to treat and those diagnosed with the disease have an overall one year survival rate of only 13 per cent.

Preliminary results of a phase III clinical trial have shown patients receiving a new combination of chemotherapy drugs have a one year survival rate of 26 per cent compared to 19 per cent for those on the trial receiving the standard chemotherapy.

Presenting the data at the 13th European Cancer Conference (ECCO) in Paris today, researchers outlined the importance of improving the treatment for advanced pancreatic cancer. In most cases chemotherapy is the only treatment option and most patients die within a year of diagnosis.

The trial, called GEMCAP, recruited over 500 UK patients with advanced pancreatic cancer. One group had the standard treatment of a chemotherapy drug called gemcitabine. The second group had a combination of gemcitabine and capecitabine.

Current chemotherapy is given intravenously, meaning the patient must attend hospital and be monitored while receiving the treatment. The new drug can be taken in tablet form, allowing patients to take it at home, and not have to spend extra time in hospital.

Professor David Cunningham from the Institute of Cancer Research at the Royal Marsden Hospital London and lead investigator of the trial says: “This trial is starting to show we can offer pancreatic cancer patients precious extra time with a new treatment that can be taken in tablet form. These results are an important milestone in the treatment of pancreatic cancer.”

He adds: “We have been able to show that adding capecitabine to the standard treatment of gemcitabine improves tumour control and the survival of patients with pancreatic cancer without any major additional toxicity. Gemcitabine and capecitabine should now be considered one of the standard options for the treatment of patients with this disease.”

Pancreatic cancer is the sixth most common cause of cancer death in the UK, causing around 7,000 deaths each year. It is the eleventh most common cancer in the UK. The main risk factor for the disease is smoking and it is very strongly related to age, with over 85 per cent of cases occurring in people over 60.

Professor John Neoptolemos, professor of surgery at the Cancer Research UK Liverpool Cancer Trials Unit, says: “The addition of capecitabine to standard treatment for advanced pancreatic cancer has offered us the first real improvement in survival. These results offer an opportunity for extending life and have consequences for all those diagnosed with the disease in the future.”

Kate Law, head of clinical trials at Cancer Research UK, says: “Currently, survival for patients with advanced pancreatic cancer is often measured in months. These results show hopeful promise of adding valuable time to a person’s life.”


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Notes to Editor

*The brand name for capecitabine is Xeloda and is made by Roche.

The general population one year survival rate of 13 per cent includes all patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in England and Wales. The other survival rates quoted are for patients in the trial only and therefore will not reflect national rates.

Capecitabine is currently used to treat bowel and breast cancer.

Visit our website CancerHelp UK for clear, easy to understand information about cancer and cancer treatments.

Pancreatic cancer is more common in men than women.

Smoking is associated with 25-30 per cent of cases of this disease.

Half of all cancers could be prevented by changes to lifestyle. For more information visit the Reduce the Risk website.

Case study available on request.