New Treatment for Pancreatic Cancer

Medically Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD
From the WebMD Archives

Jan. 23, 2002 -- A drug recently approved to treat advanced colorectal and breast cancer shows promise for difficult-to-treat pancreatic cancer.

When pancreatic cancer is identified, in most cases it has already spread, is very advanced, and doesn't respond well to treatment, says study author Thomas H. Cartwright, MD, an oncology researcher at Ocala Oncology in Florida. His report appears in the latest Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Patients often are in great pain, lose a lot of weight, and generally have much difficulty functioning in their day-to-day lives. Typically, "they have an extremely poor prognosis," he says in the report.

Currently, the only product approved for the treatment of pancreatic cancer is Gemzar, an injected drug.

However, the new drug marketed as Xeloda provided "significant benefit" for patients in his study, says Cartwright.

In the study, 42 patients with advanced pancreatic cancer took the drug in two week cycles for 13 weeks, with one week rest periods in between cycle. Their tumors were measured every six weeks, as was their pain, weight loss, and ability to function.

By the study's end, 24% of patients had responded to the drug, with significant improvements in pain intensity, consumption of painkillers, and weight gain. Four of the patients had tumor shrinkage as a result of the treatment. The disease stabilized for about four months in 17 patients (41%).

Overall, patients lived an additional six months. They also tolerated the drug well, with the most common side effect being numbness, tingling, swelling, and redness in the hands and feet. Some also had nausea and diarrhea.

"Identifying new therapy options to treat pancreatic cancer is critical as current options are very limited and success is generally poor," Cartwright says. "Patients respond differently to different therapies; therefore, physicians need multiple options to consider. Our research suggests that Xeloda deserves more consideration and advanced study in [the treatment of] pancreatic cancer."