March 15, 2002 -- Beams of light may offer a new approach for tackling pancreatic cancer. Photodynamic therapy appears to shrink tumors and prolong life in this notoriously difficult-to-treat form of the disease.
Results of a promising new study appear in the most recent issue of the medical journal Gut.
Few patients with pancreatic cancer live more than a year after they've been diagnosed. Not only is the pancreas dangerously close to other vital organs and major arteries, making treatment especially tricky, but as the tumor grows, the entire body is affected.
Researchers first injected 16 recently diagnosed pancreatic cancer patients with a photosensitizing agent. Then, three days later, they inserted needles carrying laser fiber through the skin. These laser fibers then delivered light beams directly into the tumor.
In all 16 patients, the light treatment caused the tumor to shrink. All were able to eat and drink within 48 hours of treatment and went home from the hospital after 10 days.
Half of the patients were alive a year after treatment, two lived for two years, and one lived 30 months. Most were able to spend the majority of their remaining days at home with their family.
Although the light treatment isn't a cure, this initial study is encouraging, the researchers say. "Photodynamic therapy can [kill] pancreatic cancers, with acceptable [side effects]," they write. "Further studies are indicated to assess its influence on the course of the disease, alone or in combination with chemoradiation."