Chemotherapy after surgery more than doubles survival rates for pancreatic cancer according to new research published today (18 March 2004) in the New England Journal of Medicine. Scientists from the University of Birmingham and the University of Liverpool have carried out a Europe wide study of more than 280 patients over 10 years.
This form of the disease affects around 7,000 people in the UK each year, yet survival rates are disappointingly low with only two or three per cent of patients still alive after five years.
However in the largest trial ever, the Cancer Research UK funded scientists discovered that nearly 30 per cent of patients who had surgery and chemotherapy lived for five years or more, compared with less than 11 percent in patients who had surgery alone.
Standard treatment should now change, the researchers believe, and all patients who have operable cancer should be considered for chemotherapy.
Professor Philip Johnson, Director of the University of Birmingham's Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit, explains: "The common belief among doctors is that the disease is untreatable and this has become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Now we can say unequivocally that treating patients with standard chemotherapy does offer precious extra months of life."
He adds: "We're still a long way from curing pancreatic cancer but this research represents a vital first step. Now we can build on this success by investigating other, newer drugs and combinations of drugs"
The study also examined the use of chemoradiation - a treatment which involves giving chemotherapy at the same time as radiotherapy. In the past, chemoradiation has been used to treat pancreatic cancer but there has been no conclusive proof that it works. The new research suggests that chemoradation is not an effective treatment for pancreatic cancer.
Professor Robert Souhami, Director of Clinical and External Affairs for Cancer Research UK, says: "Pancreatic cancer causes thousands of deaths each year but, until now, the role of chemotherapy and radiation in treatment has not been clear. This research shows improved survival with chemotherapy and offers hope that new drug treatments will lead to further advances."