Chemo Drug May Up Pancreatic Cancer Survival

About 6 Extra Weeks of Life Seen in Patients Taking Xeloda as Part of Chemotherapy

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on November 04, 2005

Nov. 4, 2005 -- Xeloda, a chemotherapy drug used to treat cancers of the breast and colon, may improve survival of pancreatic cancer.

So say British doctors who studied 533 people with advanced pancreatic cancer.

Patients who took Xeloda as part of chemotherapy lived about six weeks longer than those who got chemotherapy without Xeloda, the study shows.

The results are an "important milestone," says researcher David Cunningham, MD, FRCPH, in a news release. Cunningham works at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Sutton, England.

However, pancreatic cancer was still deadly. Most participants had died within three years of the study's start.

Pancreatic cancer is the No. 4 cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society.

Studying Survival

The participants were 62 years old, on average. Most had stage IVB pancreatic cancer.

The disease's stages range from 0 to IV. The higher the number, the more advanced the cancer has become. Stage IV pancreatic cancer has spread to distant parts of the body.

All patients took Gemzar, a chemotherapy drug routinely used to treat pancreatic cancer. Half were randomly assigned to take Xeloda, too.

Those assignments were made between May 2002 and January 2005.

Living Longer

After a year of treatment, more than one in four patients taking Xeloda and Gemzar were alive (26%), compared to less than one in five patients who only took Gemzar (19%).

Average survival was longer with Xeloda than without it (7.4 months with Xeloda and Gemzar; six months with only Gemzar).

By May 2005 -- the third anniversary of the study's start -- 70% of all participants had died.

However, the extra weeks of life amount to a "significant improvement in overall survival," write the researchers.

Their findings were presented in Paris at the European Cancer Conference.

Cunningham commented further in the news release.

"Some of my patients with advanced, inoperable pancreatic cancer are seeing improvement in their tumor size by adding Xeloda to their traditional chemotherapy," says Cunningham.

"This is the first time that adding another cytotoxic [chemotherapy] drug to [Gemzar] has improved the outcome for patients with inoperable pancreatic cancer and the trial results are, therefore, an important milestone."

The study was partly funded by the drug company Roche, Xeloda's maker. Roche is a WebMD sponsor.

Show Sources

SOURCES: European Cancer Conference, Paris, Oct. 30-Nov. 3, 2005. American Cancer Society: "What Are the Key Statistics About Cancer of the Pancreas?" American Cancer Society: "How Is Cancer of the Pancreas Staged?" News release, Roche.
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