Pancreatic cancer is considered one of the deadliest types of cancer. But now experts say they have found how to stop the disease in its early stages in a research model, a discovery that has already prompted a clinical trial.
According to the National Cancer Institute, pancreatic cancer can be cured if it is identified at an early stage (before it has spread) and the tumor is completely removed. Once the disease has moved into the later stages, the survival rate is less than 6 percent.
CV Rao, PhD, and his research team at the Peggy and Charles Stephenson Oklahoma Cancer Center discovered that use of the drug Gefitinib, which is currently prescribed for later stages of pancreatic cancer, has a dramatic and curative effect if it is used in the early stages of the disease.
According to Rao, “this is one of the most important studies in pancreatic cancer prevention.” This new finding “is our best chance at beating this disease.” In the study, the researchers used low doses of Gefitinib, which completely eradicated the cancer after 41 weeks of treatment.
Based on the promising findings from this study, researchers have already scheduled a pilot study for 2011. It is hoped a Phase II trial can begin within 18 months. Because scientists will be testing a drug that already has approval from the Food and Drug Administration, they can go directly to a Phase II rather than do a Phase I trial.
Gefitinib targets the signals from a gene that is among the first to mutate when pancreatic cancer is present. When scientists focus on that signal and interrupt it, they can stop the progression of tumor growth. Rao noted that “this gene is the key in 95 percent of cases of pancreatic cancer. It is our best target.”
The National Cancer Institute reports that approximately 43,140 new cases of pancreatic cancer were diagnosed in 2010, and 36,800 people died of the disease. Most people who develop pancreatic cancer are older than 65, although it does appear in younger people. Risk factors include smoking, diabetes, obesity, an inflamed pancreas (pancreatitis), and family history of the disease. Research into dietary factors is ongoing.
The potential to stop pancreatic cancer in its early stages is critical, since the disease can be cured when identified and treated early. The upcoming clinical trials will focus on at-risk individuals, especially those with pancreatitis.
National Cancer Institute
University of Oklahoma news release