Clinical Trial Explores Therapy to Reduce the Recurrence of Pancreatic Cancer

The Phase II trial assesses whether a chemotherapy combination typically given as a stand-alone treatment for pancreatic cancer helps improve patient outcomes when combined with surgery. To enhance the success of entirely removing cancerous tumors in the pancreas, the trial uses a combination of the chemotherapy agents gemcitabine (also known as Gemzar) and erlotinib (also known as Tarceva) before and after surgery.

“Pancreatic cancer is difficult to treat since it spreads rapidly and is seldom detected in early stages,” said Brian Kaplan, M.D., lead investigator of this trial, surgical oncologist at VCU Massey Cancer Center and program director of the General Surgery Residency at VCU Medical Center.

“Neoadjuvant therapies, which are therapies given prior to surgery, can aid in surgically removing tumors by first shrinking them, thereby decreasing the chance of leaving behind residual amounts of the disease.”

Patients diagnosed with operable, cancerous pancreatic tumors are eligible for the trial, which involves treatments of the chemotherapy combination for seven weeks. If the cancer has not progressed, surgery is performed to remove the tumor and seven more weeks of chemotherapy follow. Blood and tissue samples are collected for a correlative study that examines the effects of chemotherapy on tumor cells. While the overall treatment lasts approximately 35 weeks, patients are asked to return for follow-up exams for four years.

The combination of gemcitabine and erlotinib has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat pancreatic cancer, but this is the first time they have been studied to determine whether they improve patient outcomes when combined with surgery. “It is very hard to remove entire pancreatic cancer tumors without leaving some microscopic remains,” said Kaplan. “This points to a strong rationale for neoadjuvant therapies, and that is what we’re investigating with this trial.”

VCU Massey is currently conducting more than a handful of pancreatic cancer clinical trials and more than 100 total trials on a variety of cancers. For more information about this and other pancreatic cancer trials, call Marcia Megginson at (804) 628-0616. View a complete list of ALL active clinical trials available at VCU Massey.

Jenny Owen
VCU Massey Cancer Center
(804) 628-2111
[email protected]

John Wallace
VCU Massey Cancer Center
[email protected]