Pancreatic Cancer: No Longer a Death Sentence

Tuesday, 25 Feb 2014 05:35 PM

By Rick Ansorge

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Of all major cancers, pancreatic cancer is the only one that is still widely considered a death sentence.

An estimated 38,000 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year. Of these, only about 1,500 – a shocking 4 percent – are expected to still be alive after five years.

But a new therapy developed by researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York promises to  dramatically improve the survival rate of people who are diagnosed with this deadliest of cancers.

The new therapy combines two proven cancer fighters: the radioactive isotope rhenium-188, and a weakened form of the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria. In a mouse model of pancreatic cancer, researchers Claudia Gravekamp and Ekaterina Dadachova showed that radioactive bacteria eliminated about 50 percent of the primary tumor in the pancreas and an astonishing 90 percent of the distant or metastasized tumors.

“It’s been very, very successful,” Dr. Gravekamp tells Newsmax Health. “We’d like to further improve the therapy by using other isotopes, and we are looking for industrial partners that can fund clinical trials.”

Both elements of the new therapy have been tested separately, but this is the first time they’ve been combined.

“Rhenium-188 has been through thorough clinical trials, including our own clinical trial in melanoma patients,” explains Dr. Dadachova. “So it’s showed to be safe and effective.”


Editor's Note:
Knowing these 5 cancer-causing signs is crucial to remaining cancer-free for life

Non-radioactive Listeria has been used in clinical trials in breast cancer patients. The bacteria have a special ability to infect and destroy rapidly dividing cancer cells in distant tumors. Because human and animal studies of these two separate therapies showed promising results, Gravekamp and Dadachova theorized that combining them might be even more effective.

In their mouse experiments, they found that Listeria alone eliminated only about 54 percent of the distant pancreatic tumors, while radioactive Listeria eliminated about 90 percent of them. The results of their study were published in a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Gravekamp and Dadachova are eagerly courting pharmaceutical companies to fund human clinical trials of their new therapy.

“Finding an industrial partner is essential,” says Dr. Dadachova. “That would make the therapy available to patients much faster. We are already receiving a lot of letters from patients and their relatives who are really desperate and would like to participate in clinical trials.”

Sadly, because of the cumbersome federally mandated process of testing and approving new therapies, the researchers can only advise patience for now. Dr. Gravekamp predicts that pancreatic cancer patients will have to wait at least two years until they can enroll in clinical trials of radioactive Listeria. Unfortunately, that means time will run out for them.

“It’s terrible,” Dr. Gravekamp says. “I feel bad for all these patients who are waiting and hope that we can extend their life or maybe even get rid of the cancer. But we are trying to speed up the process as much as possible.”

 

The Deadliest Cancer

Pancreatic cancer kills more Americans – about 36,000 each year – than any cancers except for those of lung, colon, and breast, all of which are far more common and treatable.

Breast cancer, for example, accounts for about 200,000 new cases each year and about 40,000 deaths. Because of recent advances in treating breast cancer, however, the overall five-year survival rate has increased to nearly 90 percent.

Until now, pancreatic cancer has defied the best efforts of science to detect and treat it. The disease develops slowly – inside the pear-shaped pancreas that produces digestive juices – and seldom causes any early symptoms. Unlike cancers of the breast, colon, and prostate, there are no screening methods to detect it before it spreads.

Once it metastasizes, it becomes extremely aggressive. But even then, it is often difficult to diagnose because its symptoms – abdominal pain, jaundice, loss of appetite, weight loss, or depression – mimic many other conditions.


Because pancreatic cancer is usually not diagnosed until it has reached an advanced stage, many patients aren’t even aware they have the disease until they have only a few weeks or months to live.

The full version of this article appeared in Health Radar newsletter. To read more, click here.

Editor's Note: Knowing these 5 cancer-causing signs is crucial to remaining cancer-free for life

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