New chemotherapy regimen delays relapse and extends life for patients with pancreatic cancer

04 June 2018

Toronto -

Surgery can be an effective way to treat cancer. But in some cases, the cancer comes back even after the tumour has been removed. This is the case for many patients with pancreatic cancer.

With a five-year survival rate of 8%, pancreatic cancer is one of the hardest to treat. Roughly 10-20% of patients with this disease are eligible to have surgery to remove their tumours. Following the operation, patients are typically given a chemotherapy called gemcitabine to reduce the risk of cancer returning. However, nearly three-quarters of these patients experience a relapse, highlighting the need for improved therapies to prevent disease recurrence.

“The distressing part of pancreatic cancer is that only a small proportion of patients are candidates for surgery and even if surgery is successful, most will die of recurrent disease,” says Dr Jim Biagi, an associate professor at Queen’s University, researcher & oncologist at the Cancer Centre of Southeastern Ontario.

Dr Biagi was the Canadian co-chair of an international clinical trial that tested the effectiveness of a new chemotherapy regimen in delaying relapse in patients who had surgery to remove their pancreatic tumour. The trial was supported by the Canadian Cancer Society through the Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG).

In the trial, Dr Biagi and his colleagues showed that the new drug combination, called mFOLFIRINOX, is significantly better at delaying cancer recurrence than gemcitabine, which has been the standard of care for the past 10 years.

The length of time between surgery and the cancer coming back was 9 months longer in patients who were given the new drug combination than those receiving gemcitabine. Three years after the surgery, twice as many patients in the mFOLFIRINOX group were cancer-free compared to those in the gemcitabine group.

Patients who took the new drug combination also lived, on average, 1.5 years longer than their counterparts who received the standard treatment.

“These trial results demonstrate that patients who receive this treatment after surgery are almost twice as likely to survive,” says Dr Biagi. “This is life-changing for these patients and should impact how we treat pancreatic cancer around the world.”

“Since 1980, more than 80,000 people have received excellent care at over 800 hospitals and cancer centres across the country in clinical trials that we funded. We’re obviously thrilled when discoveries from these trials improve survival and change the way cancer is treated worldwide,” says Dr Judy Bray, Vice-President of Research at the Canadian Cancer Society.

Each year, CCS invests nearly $5 million in CCTG to enable it to conduct life-saving clinical trials like this one across the country. You can help support clinical trials by making a donation or purchasing a gift to help fund clinical trials.