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Ask Dr. Nandi: New treatment enables removal of 'inoperable' pancreatic cancer

Posted: 5:21 PM, Jun 03, 2019
Updated: 2019-06-03 17:36:48-04
Ask Dr. Nandi: What is pancreatic cancer?

(WXYZ) — A promising new treatment for a cancer that is on the verge of becoming the second leading cause of death for Americans. Pancreatic cancer is widely-known as a silent killer, as it’s often not diagnosed until the disease has advanced.

Question: Is this new treatment a game-changer?

This new treatment protocol is definitely offering hope. Now the clinical trial took place at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center. All of the study’s patients were diagnosed with locally advanced pancreatic cancer. This means the tumor is confined to the pancreas. However, the cancer typically can’t be removed surgically because of nearby abdominal blood vessels. But, chemotherapy, radiation and the blood pressure drug losartan were administered to the patients as a combo therapy. And of the 49 study participants, 34 were able to have their tumors surgically removed. Looking at percentages, that’s 61% which is pretty impressive. It really sets a new benchmark.

Question: So how did the blood pressure drug help?

In animal models, researchers found that losartan helped with delivering chemotherapy drugs. Pancreatic tumors tend to have a tough rind or outer skin, so it’s hard for drugs to get in and fight it. But scientists believe Losartan can soften the tumor exterior, making it vulnerable. But to really answer that question, a much larger clinical trial is needed, which is the next step.

Question: So here’s the most important question, how were the survival rates?

The study reported that both the time until recurrence and the overall survival time were significantly longer. On average, the patients survived a median of 33 months, so just under 3 years. While that may not seem like a lot, locally advanced pancreatic cancer is really considered an incurable disease. And sadly, most people with the disease will die before the end of the first year. But hopefully the next clinical trial will have even better news. Since Losartan activated several immune system pathways, researchers are planning to use a different blood pressure drug for the next round.