A milestone for a deadly form of cancer: A vaccine for pancreatic cancer patients who have undergone surgery dramatically reduces the risk of disease recurrence. Erasmus MC in Rotterdam will continue to participate in research, but cautions against high expectations.
The number of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer has been increasing over the years. At the moment this is about 2800 patients per year. It is expected to be over 4000 by 2032. Pancreatic cancer is a deadly form of cancer; After five years, four percent of patients are still alive. That percentage has barely increased in recent decades.
But there seems to be good news for a small percentage of patients. US research shows that a vaccine can prevent the disease from coming back after surgery. “It looks promising,” agrees Kasper van Eijk, a surgeon at Erasmus MC in Rotterdam who specializes in the treatment of pancreatic cancer.
This is unique because we know that pancreatic cancer tumors do not respond to immunotherapy. Now it has won
Doctors call it a milestone, but are cautious at the same time. The American study involved only sixteen patients, and the vaccine prevented a recurrence of the disease in half a few years later. “This is unique, because we know from pancreatic cancer that tumors do not respond to immunotherapy. Now that has been successful. But this study is about a very selected group of patients, who belong to the ten percent who have the best chance of survival,” answers medical oncologist Hanneke Wilmink of Amsterdam UMC.
The tricky thing about pancreatic cancer is that tumors grow quickly and metastasize easily. In ninety percent of patients who can be operated on, the disease recurs.
The study now needs to be carried out on a larger scale to make sure the results hold true for even more patients. Erasmus MC has already registered to participate in the study from the Netherlands. “If we start, only a small number of patients will be able to participate,” warns van Eijk. They must first qualify for surgery and then be visually clear. Then there is a group that receives the vaccine, but also a control group.
Incidentally, this is a very serious treatment. Cancer cells remain safe during surgery. The proteins in it have been analyzed for vaccination. Along with that information, mRNA vaccines — also developed for the coronavirus — teach the immune system to attack cancer cells. The idea is that from now on, the body will recognize the cells and immediately destroy them, so the disease won’t come back. Each patient is vaccinated separately. Willminck: ,, Not every patient succeeds or the vaccine does not work. We now need to see if survival actually increases, and over the long term. We are desperate for a cure, so hopefully this is the start of something beautiful.
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