Vaccine for Pancreatic Cancer Studied
Experimental Vaccine Appears to Extend Lives; So Do Chemo and Radiation
Tested in 60 Patients
For the new study, researchers used the vaccine in addition to conventional surgery and postoperative chemotherapy and radiation in 60 people with pancreatic cancer.
The vaccine was injected eight to 10 weeks after surgery, with four boosters given in the nine monthsafter chemotherapy and radiation.
Over the next two years, 24% of the participants died.
For comparison, 58% of people who get surgery alone (without the vaccine or chemotherapy and radiation) would be expected to die over the two-year period, Laheru says.
Few Side Effects
Because the vaccine targets only tumor cells, healthy cells are generally left unscathed.
That means many unpleasant side effects, such as hair loss and nausea, associated with traditional cancer medications are avoided, Laheru says.
In fact, side effects were limited to itching, redness, and swelling at the injection site and typically dissipated within 10 days.
The research was funded by the National Cancer Institute and Cell Genesys, Inc., which makes the vaccine under the name GVAX.
Laheru cautions that further study is needed before the vaccine is ready for prime time.
If it does pan out, he adds, it will most likely be used as a complement to surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
Chemo and Radiation Advised
In the U.S., most pancreatic cancer victims who undergo surgery are given chemotherapy and radiation afterward -- and another study presented at the meeting suggests this approach is advisable.
The study included 454 people who underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer; about half also got postoperative chemotherapy and radiation.
Five years later, 28% of those who got the triple punch were still alive, compared with only 17% who got surgery alone.
“After surgery to remove pancreatic cancer, there is a survival benefit to adding radiation therapy and chemotherapy,” researcher Michele M. Corsini, MD, of the Mayo Clinic tells WebMD.