PROVIDENCE, R.I.--Scientists have developed a drug and radiation regimen for reducing locally advanced and inoperable tumors in the pancreas and stomach.
The finding may be an important step toward a therapy for pancreatic and stomach malignancies. No effective treatments for these cancers currently exist. Indeed, the five-year survival rate for patients with pancreatic cancer is less than five percent.
The treatment was developed by the Brown University Oncology Group in a study of 34 patients with either pancreatic or gastric cancers. Although the study was designed to determine the optimal dose of the drug paclitaxel to administer to patients who also received radiation treatment, the researchers were surprised to find the regimen demonstrated substantial activity in the patients. The result was tumor reduction in 70 percent of the patients with stomach cancers and 31 percent of those with pancreatic cancers.
Most pancreatic and stomach tumors are hard to detect at an early stage. When they are found, the tumors have often spread locally into lymph nodes and surrounding blood vessels. These malignancies may be too extensive to remove by surgery, particularly in frail patients.
According to study leader Howard Safran, M.D., tumor regression occurred rapidly in certain patients, often within three weeks after treatments began. After two months of treatments, tumors in several patients had decreased to a size to where they could be removed surgically.
"Paclitaxel makes tumors much more sensitive to being killed by radiation," said Safran, an assistant professor of medicine in the Brown University School of Medicine, based at The Miriam Hospital and at Rhode Island Hospital.
"The new treatment can be used to shrink localized tumors," Safran said. "The idea is to get an effective treatment for these local cancers before surgery is attempted. Once the tumors shrink, they can be removed surgically."