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Hundreds of patients missing out on UK trials

Posted by: Research 11 June 2016

Less than five per cent[1] of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year are currently taking part in dedicated clinical trials as part of their treatment, compared with an average 18.1 per cent of cancer patients overall,[2] Pancreatic Cancer UK has revealed today (Saturday 11th June).                           

The shocking disparity is heightened by the fact that incidence of pancreatic cancer is set to soar from 9,400 to over 12,000 by 2030.[3] At the same time survival rates for the devastating disease persist in being extremely poor,* having barely improved for 40 years. Little is understood about the disease which persists in being tough to diagnose and treat for the majority of patients.

Many families tell the charity that they weren’t aware of clinical trials from the outset. While not everyone is suitable or wants to take part in trials, the fact that pancreatic cancer can be aggressive and progress very fast means every patient should be informed about them before the commencement of treatment as this can affect eligibility to take part.

Norman Pratt is 73 and lives in Hertfordshire. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer two years ago. On diagnosis, his consultant recommended he undergo chemotherapy and that he was suitable for a particular trial for the treatment. Norman said:

“My diagnosis was confirmed through a biopsy on 2nd May 2014 and straight away my consultant in my oncology team at Addenbrooke’s suggested I was suitable for the SIEGE trials of Gemcitabine and Abraxane. My wife and I couldn’t see any drawbacks to participating so I signed up immediately and the treatment commenced at the end of the month.”                                                                                                  

Trials have proved crucial in major breakthroughs that have led to better cancer survival in the UK in the last decade, improving understanding of the many forms of the disease and testing the effectiveness of new treatments. Yet for pancreatic cancer, options remain stubbornly low. Lesser known is the fact that clinical trials can also be key to new and better models of care and support as well as palliative care for patients.                                                                                                                            

Professor Andrew Biankin of Glasgow University who has convened a major international conference Pancreas2016 this week and is speaking on the theme of personalised medicine commented:

“We need to shift our approach and attitude if we are to really improve the outlook for pancreatic cancer patients. We can’t just apply what we’ve done with other cancers. We need a much more integrated approach to do smarter studies combining research with treatment so that patients have options and can take part in trials right from the start. We need to do better. This is so important or we are continuing to miss the boat.”

Alex Ford, Chief Executive of Pancreatic Cancer UK also speaking at the conference said:

“Pancreatic cancer is tough to treat and clinical trials are essential in so many ways. In the last week we’ve seen some very exciting developments through the ESPAC 4 trial[4] which could benefit many patients but this scale of trial is highly unusual for pancreatic cancer.

“When we see results like this, it shows what can be achieved. We want to see patient participation in trials at least doubled by 2020 across the UK. For this to happen we need every patient and relevant healthcare professional to be informed about existing trials and possible options.”

“We want to see a different approach to increasing both the number and quality of trials for pancreatic cancer patients to really kick-start a change.”

Pancreatic Cancer UK has recently launched the first-ever interactive UK-wide map and database detailing current clinical trials specifically dedicated to the disease. The free, online tool www.pancreaticcancer.org.uk/trialfinder [5] is constantly updated to give patients and healthcare professionals the latest information on trials quickly and easily. The charity wants to see all pancreatic cancer patients in the UK access more new, effective treatments on the NHS to help them survive and improve their quality of life. These latest tools are supporting the charity’s ongoing campaign Key to Survival.[6]

[1] 2014/2015 4.6% of pancreatic cancer patients were taking part in a dedicated clinical trial, National Council for Research Network.

[2] Data provided by the National Institute for Health Research Clinical Research Network, Cancer Annual Report 2013-2014.

[3] Pancreatic Cancer UK estimates that new cases of the disease will rise by 34.75% by 2030. We looked at an estimate of 11,929 new cases a year by 2030, Source P Sasieni et al, Cancer incidence in the United Kingdom: projection sot the year 2030, published in the British Journal of Cancer and analysed alongside Cancer Research UK figures. 

[4] Results or an international clinical trial funded by Cancer Research UK published at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual conference http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-us/cancer-news/press-release/2016-06-03-cancer-research-uk-trial-shows-improved-5-year-survival-for-pancreatic-cancer-patients

[5]  The trial finder was produced following feedback from patients and healthcare professionals. It is the first dedicated to pancreatic cancer and will be constantly updated.