Researchers make major breakthrough in treatment for pancreatic cancer

Results show new treatment regimen could double survival rates
June 4, 2018

A study has found that a new chemotherapy treatment has proven to show substantial increased survival rates for patients with pancreatic cancer

A study led in Kingston by a Cancer Centre of Southeastern Ontario physician has found that a new chemotherapy treatment has shown to substantially increase survival rates for patients with pancreatic cancer. Known as the mFOLFIRINOX chemotherapy combination treatment, patients from across Canada and France participated in this ground breaking study.

“With this new treatment we have found that pancreatic cancer patients can roughly double their chance of surviving cancer compared to the current practice,” says Dr. Jim Biagi, Oncologist with the Cancer Centre of Southeastern Ontario and Canadian Chair of the international trial. “This is one of the biggest steps forward in the field of pancreatic cancer that we’ve seen in a long time and should impact how we treat pancreatic cancer around the world.”

Currently, survival for pancreatic cancer is among the lowest of all cancers. People diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are 9.5 per cent as likely to survive five years after diagnosis compared to similar people in the general population. However, patients who were trialed on the mFOLFIRINOX chemotherapy combination lived on average almost twenty months longer and were cancer-free on average nine months longer. Their risk of having their cancer reoccur is a post-operative setting was also reduced by almost 50 per cent.

“I’m very grateful for being here and for the excellent care that I received under Dr. Biagi and from the staff at the Cancer Centre,” says Kathleen Kennedy, a pancreatic cancer patient and trial participant who received  mFOLFIRINOX treatment. “I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in May 2015 and I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the trial and the opportunity to receive this new treatment.”

Due to the nature of pancreatic cancer it is only effectively treated through surgery. However, a very small number of patients qualify for surgery.

“The distressing part of pancreatic cancer is that only a small proportion of patients are candidates for surgery and even if surgery is possible, most will die of recurrent disease,” says Dr. Biagi. “These trial results demonstrate that patients who receive this chemotherapy treatment after surgery are almost twice as likely to survive which is life changing for these patients.”

Results of this study were unveiled today at the presitigious American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting in Chicago. All of the attendees were encouraged to begin using this new treatment as the standard of care for pancreatic cancer patients.

“I will be pushing to have this drug made available to pancreatic patients in Ontario and across Canada in as short a time frame as possible,” says Dr. Biagi. “Every patient who is facing pancreatic cancer should have this available to them as their best option for increased survival rates.”

In 2013, there were 1,878 cases of pancreatic cancer diagnosed in Ontario, making it the 13th most common cancer. There were also 1,711 deaths from pancreatic cancer, making it the fourth leading cause of cancer related death. Pancreatic cancer causes more deaths annually than prostate cancer, and almost as many deaths as breast cancer.

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