New drug improves pancreatic cancer survival

By Sheryl Kay • Published: January 23rd, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

In the past year, about 45,000 men and women were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the United States. About 38,000 people died from the disease, which is now the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. With pancreatic cancer, symptoms and diagnosis typically do not come until after the cancer has progressed.

Traditional therapies depend on the stage at which the cancer is found. Cases diagnosed early are often treated with surgical procedures and chemotherapies, whereas later detection does not allow for surgical options. In recent years the most successful chemical regimen featured a medication call gemcitabine (jem-SYE-ta-been). New research just published in The New England Journal of Medicine confirms the success rate of gemcitabine, but also showed that a new chemical combination worked even better.

Investigators looked at the records of more than 860 pancreatic cancer patients from across the United States. According to the patients’ histories, half the group received the traditional gemcitabine treatment and the other half received that chemical along with another called nab-paclitaxel [nab pak-le-TAX-el]. When comparing the survival rate of the two groups, researchers found that the patients receiving the combination of drugs lived almost two months longer on average than those who only received the gemcitabine. And of all the patients who lived for more than a year after beginning treatment, 35 percent were from the group receiving both drugs, while only 22 percent were those receiving doses of just gemcitabine.

The group taking the combination of drugs did experience some side effects that the other group did not, including neuropathy, or a tingling in the hands and feet. But researchers still hail the results as a major breakthrough in pancreatic cancer therapies.

Hopefully, it’s the first of many.