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Treatment Modalities Evolving in Pancreatic Cancer

Angelica Welch
Published: Thursday, Oct 26, 2017

Mark J. Truty, MD
Mark J. Truty, MD
Pancreatic cancer is poised to be one of the leading causes of cancer-related death over the next 10 years, according to Mark J. Truty, MD. Though difficult to treat, there has been recent progress in the treatment of patients with this disease, he adds.

 on Gastrointestinal Cancers, Truty, an assistant professor of surgery at Mayo Clinic, discussed sequencing treatments and advances in imaging technology in pancreatic cancer.

OncLive: Please give an overview of your talk.

Truty: I spoke about the management of what we call nonmetastatic pancreas cancer. Pancreas cancer is a very deadly disease, and, as most people are aware, it is very stigmatic. The reason it is so deadly is that the majority of patients already present with metastases. Even when it is displayed on scans, most patients probably have micrometastatic disease. Therefore, I discussed the surgical management of these patients.

Specifically, there are 2 main issues that we have had over the past 3 decades. One is that many patients are going to the operating room for surgical resection of their tumor when they probably shouldn't. The second issue is that many patients are probably being denied an operation when they should get one. The challenge is trying to decipher how to sequence everything that we currently have to get the best outcome.

What is being done currently to address these issues?

There are 3 main treatment modalities for pancreas cancer: surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. People have always thought of these as independent things, but we are finding out that patients who achieve the best outcomes are receiving all 3 modalities. It is like baking. You can't just take all of the ingredients and put them in a bowl. You must take those ingredients—the modalities—and put them in the right sequence with the right amount to get the product that we are looking for. The product that we are looking for is survival.

Could you provide more detail on sequencing in this disease?

Things have changed dramatically since 2011 when level 1 data proved that modern combinatorial chemotherapy was markedly effective in pancreas cancer. Now, we are using that data that were initially done in the metastatic setting and applying it to patients who have seemingly resectable or what we call locally advanced disease. We are finding significant rates of efficacy in those patients with associated survival. 

The new thing is neoadjuvant therapy where we will give them all therapy upfront. The question is how to do that. What sequence? How many cycles? How do we know if we are doing it appropriately to get the best outcome? That is what we have been working on to optimize that approach.

Are there any ongoing surgical-related clinical trials in this space?

The most exciting trial is a study on metabolic imaging. Right now, what happens is that patients have pancreas cancer and we subject them to chemotherapy prior to the operation. The key thing is that, if you are going to give chemotherapy prior to surgery, you must prove that the chemotherapy is working. Modern imaging, such as CT scans, do not tell you whether the tumor is alive or dead.

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