Chemo before surgery shown to improve one-year survival

19 December 2022

A new clinical trial has found that giving people chemotherapy before having surgery significantly increased the one-year survival of people with pancreatic cancer whose tumour was borderline resectable.

Findings from the trial, led by the University of Liverpool on behalf of the European Study Group for Pancreatic Cancer (ESPAC) have been published in The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology journal.

Ninety patients took part in the trial. Some had surgery as their first treatment, some had chemotherapy before surgery, and others had a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy before surgery.

The aim was to help determine which approach to treatment led to the best outcome for people whose cancer had not yet spread to other parts of the body, but was close to major blood vessels in the pancreas.

Commenting on the welcome finding Dr Chris Macdonald, Head of Research at Pancreatic Cancer UK, said:

“Pancreatic cancer is a devastating disease which is hard to detect and treat. Surgery is the only way to potentially cure pancreatic cancer, however fewer than 20% of patients are diagnosed early enough for surgery. There is also a significant proportion of patients where their tumours are localised in the pancreas, but are very close to major blood vessels and surgery is difficult. This is termed ‘borderline resectable’.

This pioneering study undertaken by leading researchers and clinical teams across Europe have found that for these patients, a short course of upfront chemotherapy can significantly improve both the chances of successful surgery, and survival rates at one year.

By focussing on the best way of using the limited treatment options that we already have for pancreatic cancer, this study could allow hundreds of people each year to receive potentially life-saving surgery and improve both survival and quality of life.

It is incredible to see a research study genuinely progress the clinical field in any disease type let alone pancreatic cancer where it can be so hard to unpick exactly how best to treat people. We are thrilled for the researchers, but most importantly for people with pancreatic cancer who will benefit from the clarity of treatment approach defined by this study. We greatly look forward to working with the clinical community to make sure these findings are implemented everywhere to everyone.”