The disease is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. Cancer can be dreadful and devastating; however, the last 50 years have been filled with remarkable progress in detection and treatment. These advances have translated to people conquering what was once thought of as a death sentence and more individuals living longer than ever before.
Certain cancers, however – like pancreatic cancer – continue to impact more than 50,000 Americans each year and remain difficult to treat.
A Pancreatic Cancer Primer
Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in our country. Approximately 1 in 65 men and women are at risk of this cancer. Once diagnosed, only 20 percent of people survive longer than one year.
Even novel treatments like immunotherapies, which aim to boost the body’s immune system and have been effective in improving outcomes for people with lung cancer, kidney cancer and melanoma, continue to be ineffective in treating pancreatic cancer. Pre-clinical research has now revealed strategies to potentially tip this balance in our favor and improve outcomes for our patients.
The Latest Research in How to Combat This Deadly Disease
As chief resident in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Montefiore Einstein Center for Cancer Care and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, I have conducted research in the lab of Dr. Chandan Guha, who is the Director of the Einstein Institute of Oncophysics and Vice Chairman and Director of Translational Research in the Department of Radiation Oncology. Our work has focused on improving immune responses of tumors using novel treatment combinations involving high-dose radiation.
We are now investigating this regimen with immunotherapy to gauge if we can reverse the previous trend of poor responses in pancreatic cancer.
We were very pleased by the excitement around this pre-clinical study and the favorable response to it from our colleagues at ASTRO. As we begin to move closer to conducting clinical trials, we believe that combination therapies, including epigenetic priming as we described, may present a promising strategy for treating a difficult disease and may represent future hope for those suffering from pancreatic cancer.
We encourage anyone diagnosed with pancreatic cancer to learn more about clinical trials for which they may be eligible and the associated risks and benefits. These trials may represent an opportunity to access the latest treatment options and partner with doctors to learn better ways to help our patients.
Knowing the Risk Factors for Pancreatic Cancer
There remains no effective screening tool for pancreatic cancer, and general awareness of this disease is vital.
Pancreatic cancer incidence increases as we age. The majority of cases, both in men and women, develop between ages 60 and 80. Diabetes appears to be a risk factor, as is smoking and having a diet that is high in meat and cholesterol. Symptoms can include fatigue, pain in the upper abdomen or unexplained jaundice; however, they tend to not be prevalent until the cancer is more advanced. We encourage patients to speak with their doctors about their concerns, especially if there is a family history of cancer.
To continue to improve awareness of pancreatic cancer symptoms and the latest pancreatic cancer news and clinical trials, below are some of my favorite online resources from leading government and patient advocacy and education organizations: