CONTACT: Susan Lampert Smith
MADISON, Wis. – Pancreas cancer kills more people in Wisconsin every year than either breast or prostate cancer, despite the fact that it’s less common.
Even though November is Pancreatic Cancer Month, you don’t see professional football players wearing purple shoes or growing facial hair to raise awareness. And the statistics are sad – an estimated 73 percent of patients die in the year after diagnosis.
Still, Dr. Noelle LoConte, a pancreas cancer oncologist at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center, says the future looks brighter.
“I’m feeling, for maybe the first time ever, that we’re on the verge of a new era for pancreas cancer,” she says.
She’s cautiously optimistic about two new treatment regimens recently approved by the FDA – FOLFIRINOX (5-fluorouracil, leucovorin, oxaliplatin and irinotecan) and gemcitabine and nab-paclitaxel And the Carbone Cancer Center is running six clinical trials for patients whose cancer is at a range of stages (See below).
Additionally, the work of national groups such as PanCan and local groups, such as the Pancreas Cancer Task Force, which raises money to fund promising pilot studies at the UW Carbone Cancer Center, is bringing hope.
“The median survival rates are inching up, and that’s what we saw with breast cancer,” LoConte says. “It’s not hopeless. It just requires more funding and more research to move the needle.”
UW Carbone clinical trials for pancreatic cancer include: The ALPINE study is a phase 2 study of OMP-59R5 in comibination with nab-paclitaxel and gemcitabine for people newly diagnosed with locally advanced or metastatic pancreas adenocarcinoma; the NewLink trial, which compares treatment with an immunotherapy vaccine plus chemotherapy to standard chemotherapy for patients with surgically removed pancreas cancer; the Halozyme study of PEGPH20 plus nab-paclitaxel plus gemcitabine compared to standard chemotherapy for patients who have had no previous treatment for their stage IV pancreas cancer; the ECLIPSE, which is looking at a novel vaccine called GVAX which has been granted breakthrough status by the Food and Drug Administration; the APACT trial, which looks at a new combination of chemotherapy drugs following pancreas cancer surgery; and the Janus-1 using ruxolitinib and capecitabine for patients who weren’t helped by first line chemotherapy treatment for advanced or metastatic pancreas adenocarcinoma.