Immunotherapy promising as 'silent killer' treatment

Sep 13, 2016

Doctors are working with a potentially significant new treatment for pancreatic cancer, by pumping up the body's immune system.

Credit National Cancer Institute / Roswell Park Cancer Institute

Called the silent killer, pancreatic cancer is one of the most feared branches of the disease because the standard survival time is in the months after diagnosis. There is no test for it and about 80 percent of the time it is found late stage after spreading to other organs.

British doctors are starting to use an immune therapy treatment, along with the drug considered standard chemotherapy treatment. Roswell Park Cancer Institute Assistant Professor Dr. Ajlan Atasoy says the treatment is now being used in very early stages of the disease because it seems to work better than later on.
              
"The recurrences of the disease coming back are much higher than we would hope, so we still need advances that we are working on," says Atasoy. "Once the disease has come back or if the patient already had metastases when they were first diagnosed, unfortunately the outcomes are quite dismal."

Dismal because the five-year survival rate is around four percent.

Roswell Park Cancer Institute's Ajlan Atasoy, MD.
Credit Roswell Park Cancer Institute

Atasoy says immunotherapy treatment is usually easier on the human body than chemotherapy by itself and new treatments like this are providing hope in a cancer area which has had little.

"With pancreatic cancer, maybe we are not where we would like to be at the moment, but we are seeing progress," Atasoy says. "It may be slow progress, but I think its characteristics of the tumor and its surroundings that are making things more difficult to understand and to treat, but we are seeing progress and we are hopeful about making more progress."