Survival rates of pancreatic cancer patients will improve with a new combination cancer therapy, a new study has suggested.

The results of the clinical trial conducted by Cancer Research UK showed that an additional 13 percent of patients with pancreatic cancer will live at least five years if they are on combination chemotherapy rather than having the standard treatment alone.

For their study, the researchers analyzed 732 patients from different hospitals who underwent surgical removal of their tumors. Half of them were given the standard treatment of gemcitabine, while the remainder of patients received the combination therapy of capecitabine and gemcitabine.

The researchers noted that 29 percent of the patients who had the combination therapy survived at least five years than those in the standard therapy group and that the side effects did not differ between the two groups.

"The difference in short-term survival may seem modest, but improvement in long-term survival is substantial for this cancer," said University of Liverpool professor and lead researcher John Neoptolemos.

Because of this, Neoptolemos said that the combination therapy of capecitabine and gemcitabine would become the new standard treatment for pancreatic cancer. He added that identifying drugs that can shrink the tumor to make surgery possible is a significant step toward curing the disease and improving survival rates in patients.

Chief clinician of Cancer Research UK Professor Peter Johnson acknowledged that pancreatic cancer is a challenge to treat but it is good that progress is being achieved. In the UK, pancreatic cancer afflicts nearly 10,000 individuals every year and ranks as the fifth most common cause of death, with 8,800 patients dying yearly.

"We still have a long way to go, but Cancer Research UK is investing heavily into research to take on pancreatic cancer, and we are just starting to see the results," Johnson said.

The trial, which started in 2008, is currently in its third phase and is only recruiting participants who have ampullary cancer or the cancer that originates from the ampulla of Vater, the part where the pancreatic and bile ducts join and meet the bowel.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have earlier developed an implantable device that would increase the efficacy of chemotherapy drugs for pancreatic cancer patients. Will it work with the combination therapy to treat pancreatic cancer better?

Photo: Nicki Dugan Pogue | Flickr

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