NEW data on drug treatment for pancreatic cancer – which affects 350 new Irish patients annually – shows an improvement in the length of time people could potentially survive.
Pancreatic cancer, which led to the death of former finance minister Brian Lenihan in his early 50s, continues to have a very poor prognosis.
Commenting on the results, published in the 'New England Journal of Medicine' today, Dr Ray McDermott, a medical oncologist in St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin, said there has not been major progress in the disease in the last 20 years.
He said the combination of the new agent Abraxane and chemotherapy means patients with the disease have a better chance of extending their lives and improving their symptoms.
"This study involved patients with advanced disease who got the combination of treatment and lived on average an extra two months," he said. "Although it does not sound like a lot it is a big advance for this cancer."
A lot of patients will not be as advanced as those in the study. Their cancer cannot be operated on but has not spread and in those patients the benefit of the drug combination may be greater, he pointed out.
He described the study as "the beginning of a new era for pancreatic cancer". The drug is licensed in Ireland for breast cancer but not for pancreatic patients. It has to be assessed by the HSE cancer control programme, as well the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics.
He hopes to start a trial of the drug pancreatic cancer patients in St Vincent's soon.