New Approach Extends Survival for Pancreatic Cancer Patients

By Steve Barrett
Monday, July 1, 2019

Among the 35 percent of pancreatic cancer patients whose tumors have begun spreading into surrounding blood vessels and are often deemed inoperable, life-extending surgery may in fact be possible, according to a study published in Annals of Surgery.

Those patients typically have only 12 to 18 months to live. However, new chemotherapeutic approaches in tandem with surgery and radiation therapy extended average survival among patients in the study to nearly five years.

Approximately 200 Mayo Clinic patients underwent chemotherapy then radiation and surgery. Once chemotherapy brought patients’ CA 19-9 tumor marker levels into a normal range, physicians used a PET scan to determine whether the tumor was destroyed, according to a news release about the findings. If so, radiation and surgery followed.

Almost 90 percent of patients in the study — half of whom had previously been told surgery was not possible — lived longer than the predicted 12 to 18 months.

More cycles of chemotherapy to kill the tumors were among the factors key to longer survival, researchers found.

About 46,000 Americans will die of pancreatic cancer in 2019, according to the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research. The disease is expected to surpass colorectal cancer as the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States in 2010.