Recent advances in the treatment of pancreatic cancer give hope to patients

Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer.1  Unlike mammograms for breast cancer, colonoscopies for colon and rectal cancers or pap smear tests for cervical cancer, there is no standardized screening for pancreatic cancer. You can only become aware when symptoms appear, and you have a reason to get a blood test or imaging. By then, the cancer growth can be considerable and may have spread to another area, further complicating treatment.1 Let us take a look at the statistics of pancreatic cancer in the UK.

With increasing support from various organizations and the government, pancreatic cancer research is making huge advances. Scientists are developing new ways to screen for this cancer so that it can be detected earlier. Medical experts are also engineering new drugs to treat cancer and finding innovative ways to repurpose existing therapies, such as delivering more focused radiation to tumours to shrink them, which can help in their easy removal.3

Here are some of the latest treatments and advances in pancreatic cancer:3

 Targeted therapy
Around 25% of pancreatic cancer patients have unique molecular alterations in their tumours. With recent advances, researchers can study these differences using technologies such as molecular profiling, which allows doctors to target treatments individually. A large study published in 2020 in The Lancet Oncology found that pancreatic cancer patients who received tailored drug therapy based on the unique characteristics of their tumour lived around one year longer than those who did not receive targeted therapy.3

Using the breast cancer drug olaparib
A 2019 study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, reported that patients who took olaparib (effective for breast cancer gene (BRCA) and DNA repairing gene mutations) for metastatic pancreatic cancer had no new tumour growth, and no spread of their cancer, for twice as many months as those not receiving the drug. However, there was no difference in long-term survival past 18 months.3

Guided radiation therapy
It has been reported that intensive chemotherapy, followed by cutting-edge MRI-guided radiation therapy, is an effective approach to the treatment of pancreatic cancer. Without MRI guidance, radiation therapy can be technically challenging due to the location of the pancreas in the middle of the abdomen. The new technology combines two ways of targeting the tumour to increase precision. MRI guidance helps to visualise and accurately deliver radiation treatment to treat the tumour with high doses of radiation while reducing the radiation dose to nearby vital structures, thus reducing the risk of side effects.3

Early cancer detection using blood and urine screenings
Research teams are working hard to develop methods of blood-based DNA analysis to detect pancreatic cancer with high accuracy. Moreover, in clinical trials in the UK and Finland, researchers are also studying urine analysis as a way to detect pancreatic cancer.

Thus, although survival rates of pancreatic cancer have risen and there are new treatments, early diagnosis is key.

Pancreatic cancer is still aggressive with a poor prognosis unless you find it early.1



  1. Pancreatic Cancer: The latest advancements to treat a deadly disease. Available at: Accessed on March 2022.
  2. Pancreatic cancer statistics. Available at: Accessed on March 2022.
  3. Warning signs of pancreatic cancer and advances in treatment. Available at: Accessed on March 2022.