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Drug mix hailed in pancreatic cancer fight

Press Association logoPress Association 25/01/2017

A life-extending combination of two drugs has been hailed a "monumental leap forward" in the treatment of pancreatic cancer.

Pairing the chemotherapy drugs gemcitabine and capecitabine dramatically increases the chances of people with pancreatic cancer living at least five years, trial results have shown.

The treatment protocol should become the new standard of care for patients who have had surgery, experts say.

Pancreatic cancer is the deadliest of the 21 most common cancers, largely because it is often identified at a late stage.

Just five per cent of sufferers can expect to live five years and a mere one per cent are still alive 10 years after diagnosis.

Survival rates have improved little since the early 1970s.

More than 700 patients from the UK, Germany, Sweden and France took part in the Espac 4 trial, which compared post-surgery treatment using both drugs with using gemcitabine alone.

The findings, published in The Lancet medical journal, showed that 29 per cent of patients receiving the drug combination lived at least five years.

In contrast, just 16 per cent of patients restricted to gemcitabine survived that long.

Leanne Reynolds, head of research at Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: "These results are a monumental leap forward in pancreatic cancer treatment.

"We believe this could herald a true step change in the treatment of this tough cancer, offering substantially more patients who have had surgery the chance to live for longer and crucially, without significant added side effects."

Side effects from the combination treatment were no worse than those experienced by patients on gemcitabine alone.

They included an impaired immune system and increased risk of infection, bleeding or bruising problems, fatigue, nausea, diarrhoea and flu-like symptoms.

Trial leader Professor John Neoptolemos, of the University of Liverpool, said: "This is one of the biggest ever breakthroughs prolonging survival for pancreatic cancer patients.

"When this combination becomes the new standard of care, it will give many patients living with the disease valuable months and even years. The difference in short-term survival may seem modest but improvement in long-term survival is substantial for this type of cancer."

The study was funded by Cancer Research UK.

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