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Pancreatic Cancer Health Center

Patrick Swayze Opens Up About Pancreatic Cancer

Actor Says He's 'Going Through Hell,' Took Experimental Medication
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Besides chemotherapy, Swayze took an experimental drug called vatalanib. What does that drug do?

Vatalanib inhibits tyrosine kinases, which are enzymes needed for cell growth, cell proliferation, and cell differentiation.

"What inhibition of this does is you're stunting the growth of the tumor," Singh says. "You're preventing it from getting more aggressive, with the hope that it ultimately dies and goes away."

He points out that vatalanib is still being tested and isn't available yet.

What else is in the pipeline for treatment?

"There are probably at least 100 to 150 new drugs that are in the pipeline," says Singh, adding that most experimental drugs are used with chemotherapy when other treatments fail.

"Stage IV therapy predominantly is chemotherapy-based, at the present time," he says.

"Cancer cells are very smart," Singh says. "The example that I use in a lot of talks is that they're going on a freeway. ... if you're going by one main freeway and the freeway is blocked, you can take an alternative freeway to get there. And if the alternative freeway is blocked, then you can take multiple surface routes to get there."

It's the same thing with cancer cells, Singh says. "You think you can block one gene and hope that these cells are going to not grow any further? Well, they're smart enough to find an alternative route to get to the other end."

Singh predicts that in the next decade, cancer treatment will be a matter of using several therapies -- surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and gene therapy or immunotherapy, if it's available.

"We don't have a magic bullet," Singh says.

Swayze has been working hard throughout all of this. How typical is his case?

"I don't know the extent of how much [cancer] was there in the liver" when Swayze was diagnosed," Singh says. "If he had no response to the chemotherapy, clearly he would have progressed. If Patrick has a good response to this, then he's in the fortunate group."

The odds aren't good, but Singh knows of patients who have lived longer than predicted. Singh says that several years ago he met a man who was a seven-year survivor of pancreatic cancer that had already spread when it was diagnosed. The man asked Singh to tell his story when he lectured on pancreatic cancer.

"I don't know whether he's still alive -- that was three years ago -- but it's a good success story," Singh says. "But in reality, most of these people are not around that long."

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