Since when I started working in the field of pancreatic diseases, I kept on hearing the same story again and again in every meeting I attended and every paper I read: despite years of biomedical research, pancreatic cancer is a devastating disease, and there is little we can do about it.
I recently wrote an article about pancreatic cancer for St. Giles Medical, and I summarise the key points for you here.
Survival rate depends highly on the type of tumour and the stage at diagnosis.
For the most common type of pancreatic tumour, the pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma or PDAC, the mean survival rate goes from less than six months to 26 months.
Surgery is the only option for cure.
The best possible scenario applies for patients in which the disease is detected early, allowing the complete removal of the cancer cells by surgery, followed by chemotherapy to eliminate any remaining tumour cells.
Why is PDAC so difficult to treat?
Three main reasons:
- the pancreas hides in the back of the abdominal cavity,
- at the beginning of the disease (when it would be easier to treat), there are usually no pain or symptoms,
- a particular dense layer of fibres like collagen and other cellular components surrounds the tumour, acting as a barrier both to chemotherapy but also to cancer cells that may otherwise spread to other organs.
Research is starting to make a difference
The past decades of basic, preclinical and clinical research produced a tremendous amount of information that is slowly giving rise to new alternative pathways for research and treatment, with old and new ideas being frenetically tested.
Clinical trials will give rise to exciting news in the following years.
There is significant hope that the survival rate of patients after surgery will increase in the following years’ thanks to promising preliminary results from a phase III clinical trial on adjuvant therapy.
Several other clinical trials will also soon provide much-needed evidence.
Major challenges for PDAC
- Identification of at-risk population for screening and prevention.
- Detection of a tumour at an early phase.
- Better therapeutic options.
- A precision medicine approach.
Pancreatic cancer is losing the race against other diseases, but this is not due to little or inadequate research.
The new generation of researchers will have to imagine innovative interventions for a complicated, destructive but also biologically particular disease.
What are your main thoughts about this disease? What do you think about biomedical research on pancreatic cancer? Leave me your thoughts and comments, I am looking forward to knowing what you think.
Image: Neelima Shah and Edna Cukierman, National Cancer Institute \ Fox Chase Cancer Center