The lack of effective treatment courses for pancreatic cancer at the moment implies that the only survival option when combating the disease is complete surgical removal of the tumor, which is difficult to perform and requires skilled and experienced surgeons that have specialized in the required procedures. Research advances in pancreatic cancer are vital for later stage pancreatic cancer cases I which complete tumor removal is no longer an option and many patients with advanced stages of pancreatic cancer are encouraged to part take in clinical trials as the survival rate is these cases is lower. The prognosis for patients with advanced stages of pancreatic cancer is bleak and life expectancy for patients whose tumors cannot be surgically removed is between 6 to 11 months for locally advanced pancreatic cancer and between only 2 to 6 months for cases with metastasis in other parts of the body. With such poor survival rates research on pancreatic cancer is becoming increasingly important in medical centers across the world.
Early detection methods
Pancreatic cancer can go undetected for a long time because of the lack of symptoms to warn patients and doctors of its existence. While even patients is early stages have a relatively poor survival rate, with only 7 to 25 percent of them surviving for more than 5 years after diagnosis, the disease cannot be treated unless the tumor is removed surgically and in the advanced stages of pancreatic cancer tumors have already spread to different parts of the body. In other words, by the time the patient exhibits signs of pancreatic cancer, it is too late for the tumor to be removed surgically. This makes research into early detection methods for pancreatic cancer a vital part of increasing survival rates for patients. Recent discoveries in genetics have helped scientists to link changes in the DNA to cells in the pancreas becoming cancerous. Changes in genes such as the BRCA2 have been shown to increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
Researchers are currently exploring the modifications that a series a genes, both inherited and not, suffer when the person is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in order to determine what causes the disease to develop. They have also found that pancreatic cancer takes a long period of time to develop and that it does not appear at once but in a series of stages known as pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PanIN). During these steps certain changes occur in some of the genes, gradually becoming more pronounced. For instance researchers have found that while in the early steps like PanIN 1 only a few genes suffer modifications and the pancreatic duct cells do not show major abnormalities while in the PanIN 2 and PanIN 3 stages the abnormalities can be found in several cells as well as in the pancreatic duct cells. Based on these findings scientists are now working to develop tests meant to detect acquired gene changes in pre-cancerous conditions linked to pancreatic cancer.
Diagnostic tests can now often recognize changes in the KRAS oncogene, one of the most common types of changes associated with pancreatic cancer pre-cancerous conditions. Although the tests are only recommended for people with a family history of pancreatic cancer at the moment, they are a diagnostic option for people with a hereditary genetic predisposition for pancreatic cancer.
Developments in treatment options
The main focus of pancreatic cancer research is to find new treatment courses since locally advanced pancreatic cancer and metastatic advanced pancreatic cancer cases that cannot be surgically treated are not curable at the moment. With the advanced pancreatic cancer survival rate being critically low, clinical trials and experimental treatment courses are often the recommended option for many patients that cannot receive surgical treatment.
Pancreatic cancer surgical removal often consists of a Whipple procedure which is a complex operation that takes a toll on both the patient and the surgeon. While this surgical procedure requires a large incision in the abdomen, some major medical centers have developed a method of performing the surgery laparoscopically by only making a few small incisions in the patient’s abdomen instead and inserting long, thin instruments as well as a video camera through these incisions. This new procedure is less strenuous on the patient and involves a shorter recovery type but it is difficult to perform. Surgeons are now researching the benefits of this new surgery in order to establish which patients it could benefit the most.
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy
A number of clinical trials are currently testing the effectiveness of several chemicals and substances in prolonging the life of advanced pancreatic cancer patients. The development of promising substances such as gemcitabine and treatment combinations like that of gemcitabine, irinotecan, and celecoxib is underway as some patients seem to be responding well to these chemicals but conclusive results remain to be noted. Studies have also been combining chemotherapy with various forms of radiation therapy such as intraoperative radiation therapy and proton beam radiation in an attempt to treat exocrine pancreatic cancer and to target the cancerous cells in the pancreas alone instead of a larger area in the body. Intraoperative radiation therapy is administered to the patient during surgery in a single large dose and only targets the pancreas while proton beam radiation focuses on the tumor and does less damage to the cells around it.
With the new discoveries being made concerning the differences between pancreatic cancer cells and normal cell, targeted therapies are emerging to better combat the disease by only attacking specific and problematic targets. These new, more specific therapies may prove more useful than the regular treatment courses available at the moment and advances in these areas are being made every day.
Surviving pancreatic cancer
With the advanced pancreatic cancer prognosis for patients being bleak, advances in pancreatic cancer treatment and prevention methods are vital for improving the survival rate of pancreatic cancer patients. Currently, only 20 percent of adults with pancreatic cancer survive for more than a year after diagnosis, only 5 percent survive for more than 5 years and only 1 percent survive for more than 10 years after having been diagnosed. Research advances in pancreatic cancer are vital for improving the survival rates for patients and creating targeted treatment courses that provide better outcomes.