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  1. ITV Report

Drugs hail 'monumental step' in fight against pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer is the deadliest of all the 21 most common cancers. Credit: PA

A drug combination which can extend the life of a patient suffering from one of the deadliest cancers by five years has been hailed as a "monumental step forward".

Trial results have revealed that by pairing the chemotherapy drugs gemcitabine and capecitabine it dramatically increases the chances of people with pancreatic cancer living for at least five years.

Experts are advising that the treatment protocol should now become the new standard of care for patients who have had surgery.

Pancreatic cancer is the deadliest of all the 21 most common cancers, largely because it is often identified at a late stage.

Just 5% of pancreatic cancer sufferers can expect to live five years. Credit: PA

Around 9,600 people in the UK are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and 8,800 die from it every year.

Survival rates of the disease have improved very little since the early 1970s.

Just 5% of sufferers can expect to live five years and a mere 1% are still alive 10 years after diagnosis.

Over 700 patients from the UK, Germany, Sweden and France took part in the Espac 4 trial which compared post-surgery treatment using both drugs with using gemcitabine alone.

The findings, published in The Lancet medical journal, showed that 29% of patients receiving the drug combination lived at least five years. In contrast, just 16% of patients restricted to gemcitabine survived that long.

Charity Pancreatic Cancer UK is now calling for the combination treatment to be made available to all eligible patients on the NHS.

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer

The NHS says it is important to remember that the following symptoms can be caused by many different conditions and are not usually the result of cancer.

But you should contact your GP if you're concerned, or if these symptoms start suddenly.

Cancer Research UK and the NHS say these are the most common symptoms to look out for:

Pain in the stomach area or back

  • Pain in the back or stomach area, which may come and go at first and is often worse when you lie down or after you've eaten.
  • People describe it as a dull pain that feels as if it is boring into you. It can begin in the stomach area and spread around to the back.
  • The pain is worse when you lie down and is better if you sit forward. It can be worse after meals.
  • Some people may only have back pain. This is often felt in the middle of the back, and is persistent.

Jaundice

  • About half of patients have jaundice when they first go to their doctors. Most of these people will have pain as well.
  • Around 1 in 10 people will have painless jaundice.
  • Jaundice is yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. The urine is darker than normal and bowel motions may be lighter in colour.

Weight loss

  • People diagnosed with pancreatic cancer might have recently lost a lot of weight (at least 10% of their total body weight) for no apparent reason.
  • This symptom is more common in cancers of the head of the pancreas.

Other possible symptoms

  • nausea and vomiting
  • bowel changes
  • fever and shivering
  • indigestion
  • blood clots

Trial leader Professor John Neoptolemos, from the University of Liverpool, said: "This is one of the biggest ever breakthroughs prolonging survival for pancreatic cancer patients.

"When this combination becomes the new standard of care, it will give many patients living with the disease valuable months and even years", he added.

More information on pancreatic cancer can be found at Cancer Research UK.