New progress in the fight against pancreatic cancer
Written by James Lion
The personalized therapies improve the prognosis for the patient and open a window of hope to fight a disease that in ten years will have increased its incidence in the population by 50%.
The pancreatic cancer is the most common tumor ninth in Spain and 2030 is expected to increase in the incidence of this pathology superior to 50%, plus an increased presence in young patients. However, the new treatment schemes and the use of personalized therapies have improved the prognosis, and have allowed patients to live longer, and with a better quality of life.
As the Spanish Association Against Cancer recalls, this neoplasm appears as a result of an abnormal growth of the cells that are part of this organ that is in the abdomen, just behind the lower stomach.
From the Spanish Society of Medical Oncology (SEOM) they specify in this sense that, more frequently, pancreatic cancer originates in the region of the pancreas called the ‘head’ (60% of cases), and less frequently in the area called `body` or` tail` of the pancreas. In turn, it indicates that pancreatic cancer is an “important health problem”, although it does not have a high incidence in the population, because it does have a high mortality , and at the time of diagnosis less than 20% of the patients will be susceptible to being resected surgically, given the advanced state of the disease.
According to figures reported by SEOM, in 2017 in Spain, pancreatic cancer was already the third cause of death from cancer, with a greater number of deaths from pancreatic cancer than from breast cancer, even though it is a much less frequent tumor .
According to Teresa Macarulla oncologist of the Gastrointestinal Tumor Unit of the IOB Institute of Oncology at the Hospital Quirónsalud Barcelona , historically, pancreatic cancer has been characterized by responding poorly to conventional chemotherapy. “The five-year survival rate is less than 10%,” he says.
Thus, and despite being a disease that from the genetic point of view is very complex and resistant to most conventional therapies, the latest research on pancreatic cancer “opens a window of hope for these patients,” according to says Dr. Macarulla.
With this, the future of cancer treatments , he explains, is heading towards personalized therapies. Not all cancers are the same, nor do all people have the same symptoms or resist treatments the same. “The future is inclined to try to customize cancer treatments as much as possible. We know that pancreatic cancer is a heterogeneous disease, so a personalized treatment allows a higher percentage of success, ”he says.
In fact, the oncologist of the Gastrointestinal Tumor Unit of the IOB Institute of Oncology at the Hospital Quirónsalud Barcelona has participated in the first study with personalized therapy in pancreatic cancer, the study ‘POLO’. Specifically, this work has proven that an active medication in other types of tumors, ‘olaparib’, may also work in certain cases of pancreatic cancer.
This drug has been used successfully in the personalized treatment of breast or ovarian cancers, and specifically in patients who presented a germline mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. “Approximately 6-8% of patients with pancreatic cancer are carriers of this mutation and can benefit from this treatment,” celebrates Macarulla.
The POLO study has proven effective in the treatment of patients who have this germline mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, and who have presented the tumor controlled after platinum-based chemotherapy. “Treatment with a PARP inhibitor drug prevents cancer cells from repairing the damage to their DNA, which causes their destruction and allows you to do without chemotherapy, with the improvement of side effects,” says the oncologist.
The results of POLO have been published in the prestigious ‘New England Journal of Medicine’, and were presented in summer at the last American Congress of Medical Oncology (ASCO).