As well as manning our Support Line, our Specialist Nurses and Information & Support team also hold Healthcare Professional training days to educate and keep healthcare professionals updated on pancreatic cancer developments. Here’s our Information Manager Emily to update us on the event:
Our most recent – and very successful – study day was held in partnership with the Leeds Pancreatic Unit at the end of March. Experts from the Leeds team provided updates on improvements in care, from new scans to help diagnose pancreatic cancer and new treatments coming on the scene, to ways to manage diet symptoms. There was a real, optimistic sense that things are changing for people with pancreatic cancer, with treatment options that we’ve never had available before.
Dr Alan Anthoney, a consultant oncologist, spoke about his experience of using abraxane®, FOLFIRINOX and gemcitabine. FOLFIRINOX can help people to live for longer – but it can be difficult to deal with, so people need to be fit enough for it. Abraxane together with gemcitabine is another option, and has better survival than gemcitabine on its own. However, Dr Anthoney is finding that abraxane can cause fatigue and other side effects. Read more about the side effects of abraxane and how to manage them.
A possible new treatment to keep an eye out for is Ruxolitinib; early studies have looked hopeful. The Janus 1 study is a phase 3 study looking at ruxolitinib combined with capecitabine in people with advanced pancreatic cancer who have already had another chemotherapy treatment. There are a few centres in the UK that are currently recruiting patients for this study – if you’d like to find out more, do get in touch with our Support Line nurses on 08088010707 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Professor David Sebag-Montefiore, a consultant clinical oncologist, spoke about some of the developments happening in radiotherapy. Leeds is a key centre for stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR ) – also known as stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT) or Cyberknife®. It delivers the radiation very accurately, meaning that a higher dose can be given each time, and fewer treatment sessions are needed. For example, patients may only need three to five treatments over one to two weeks – rather than treatment five days a week for up to six weeks.
In Glasgow they are now using volumetric multiple arc radiotherapy (VMAT), which delivers the radiotherapy beam in an arc. This is also very precise radiotherapy – and it’s possible it may reduce side effects. Using VMAT and SABR on borderline resectable pancreatic cancers may help to make surgery more effective – and even, potentially, cure the cancer.
Irreversible electroporation (IRE) – also known as Nanoknife® – is another new treatment, and one we’ve talked about here on the blog. It uses high voltage electrical currents to kill the cancer. It’s a safe treatment and may be suitable for people with pancreatic cancer who can’t have surgery – although it can be a technically challenging treatment to deliver.
In addition to the treatments, we also covered diet and care in pancreatic cancer. Anna Burton (pictured), a pancreatic specialist dietitian, gave a really interesting talk about diet and using pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT) to help digest food – including some reasons why people struggle with PERT. For example, the pancreas would naturally produce enzymes for about two hours after you eat – so just taking enzymes at the beginning of a meal won’t be enough.
She recommended that people should start on the lowest effective dose of enzymes – at Leeds, they usually start people on 80,000 units with a meal and 40,000 with a snack. People often worry that this sounds like a lot – but the pancreas would naturally produce about 720,000 units in two hours!
Other top tips – the enzymes work best at a temperature below 25oC, so don’t take them with a hot drink. If you treat yourself to a coffee at a coffee shop, you’ll need to take enzymes as most coffee shops use full fat milk. And if you have a high fat meal, increase the amount of enzymes as fatty foods needs more enzymes to digest them.
The day was a brilliant success, and we want to thank all the attendees, speakers and organisers for such a great day. The feedback we had was positive, with attendees saying they felt better informed, had gained knowledge of new treatments and not only gained a better understanding of the patient journey, but came away with a ‘sense of hope and optimism’ surrounding the treatment of pancreatic cancer. A success all round!
If you’re a Healthcare Professional involved in the treatment and care of pancreatic cancer patients, keep up to date – including access to slides from our HCP study days – on our HCP section of the website. Our next study day will be held in Cambridge in partnership with Addenbrookes’ Pancreatic Unit on Friday 5th June. Find out more here.