Seven Reasons for Hope in Pancreatic Cancer Treatment

 New research, new treatments, early detection and increasing patient awareness are helping prolong and improve the lives of those with pancreatic cancer. Many of these important developments are happening at the Cancer Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Reason #1: Organoids.

 Matching patients’ tumors with treatments — targeted therapy — offers the possibility of controlling the disease. This requires pre-clinical testing on the patient’s own tumor cells in the laboratory, a process that has been difficult and slow — until now. Organoids (right) are a new, efficient method for growing pancreatic tumor tissue as 3-D, organ-like cultures that closely mimic the tumor. This platform is being put into place at the BIDMC Cancer Center.

Reason #2: Biomarker search is on.

The BIDMC Cancer Center is the lead site for Project Survival, a collaboration between BIDMC, the Pancreatic Cancer Research Team, Cancer Research and Biostatistics and Berg Biosystems, a Framingham-based pharmaceutical and biotechnology company. The worldwide research consortium aims to revolutionize pancreatic cancer treatment by discovering and validating a clinically meaningful biomarker, a unique biological signature that would give doctors the ability to detect pancreatic cancer at an early stage and help in directing treatment.

Reason #3: New combination therapeutic agents.

BIDMC Cancer Center physicians are using the new chemotherapy combination of nab-paclitaxel and gemcitabine to achieve better outcomes for patients with advanced pancreatic cancer. Clinical trials have shown that combination therapy decreases tumor size by at least 30 percent in more people than with gemcitabine alone.

Reason #4: Innovative clinical trials.

The BIDMC Cancer Center is active in clinical research through its membership in the Pancreatic Cancer Research Team and the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center. Opportunities to participate in clinical trials provide patients with access to promising new therapies now in development. These currently include immunotherapies that fight pancreatic cancer by boosting the body’s immune system and therapies that target cancer stem cells and the tumor’s microenvironment.

Reason #5: New surgical techniques.

Experts at the BIDMC Cancer Center perform minimally invasive, robot-assisted surgery, which means less blood loss, less time under anesthesia and a quicker recovery. While surgery is not always possible, evidence suggests that advanced surgical techniques have improved pancreatic cancer outcomes in some patients. Robot-assisted pancreatic surgery has been performed at BIDMC since 2012, when it became the first hospital in New England to offer this approach.

Reason #6: Modeling pancreatic surgical outcomes.

The BIDMC Surgery Department’s Surgical Outcomes Analysis & Research (SOAR) program uses advanced statistical techniques and national databases to develop methods for improving outcomes for pancreas surgery patients. Factors affecting outcomes include quality, delivery and financing of care. One goal is to develop a web-based tool to help doctors devise the best sequence of therapeutic strategies (chemo, radiation and surgery) for their pancreatic cancer patients.

Reason #7: Patient awareness.

Many people with curable pancreatic cancer do not consider surgery because they believe their situation is hopeless. Awareness of treatment options is spreading through events and organizations like World Pancreatic Cancer Day, the Greg and Cathy Griffith Foundation, the Alliance of Families Fighting Pancreatic Cancer, Project Purple and the Pancreatic Cancer Research Team.

The BIDMC Cancer Center is a leader in all these initiatives.