Could a Medical Breakthrough Present New Hope For Pancreatic Cancer

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Cancer can be dreadful and devastating; however, the last 50 years have been filled with remarkable progress in detection and treatment. Certain cancers, however – like pancreatic cancer – continue to impact more than 50,000 Americans each year and remain difficult to treat.

A Pancreatic Cancer Primer Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in our country. Approximately 1 in 65 men and women are at risk of this cancer. Why is this cancer so lethal, you may ask? Pancreatic cancer is deadly because it is difficult to detect early and often presents in the advanced stages. These cancers can also employ multiple strategies to resist treatment.

Even novel treatments like immunotherapies, which aim to boost the body’s immune system and have been effective in improving outcomes for people with lung cancer, kidney cancer, and melanoma, continue to be ineffective in treating pancreatic cancer.

As the chief resident in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Montefiore Einstein Center for Cancer Care and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, I have conducted research in the lab of Dr. Chandan Guha, who is the Director of the Einstein Institute of Oncophysics and Vice Chairman and Director of Translational Research in the Department of Radiation Oncology. Our work has focused on improving immune responses of tumors using novel treatment combinations involving high-dose radiation.

We applied this technique to pancreatic cancer in a series of pre-clinical studies with encouraging preliminary results, which we were excited to present just last week at the 58th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Radiation Oncology, the research meeting of the leading professional association in radiation oncology dedicated to improving patient care.

During the meeting, we showcased our pre-clinical results about “Priming” a pancreatic tumor with a drug known as a histone deacetylase inhibitor, a compound with a history of use in blood-related cancers, combined with radiation treatment. We are now investigating this regimen with immunotherapy to gauge if we can reverse the previous trend of poor responses in pancreatic cancer.

We were very pleased by the excitement around this pre-clinical study and the favorable response to it from our colleagues at ASTRO. As we begin to move closer to conducting clinical trials, we believe that combination therapies, including epigenetic priming as we described, may present a promising strategy for treating a difficult disease and may represent future hope for those suffering from pancreatic cancer.

We encourage anyone diagnosed with pancreatic cancer to learn more about clinical trials for which they may be eligible and the associated risks and benefits. These trials may represent an opportunity to access the latest treatment options and partner with doctors to learn better ways to help our patients.

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