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Immunotherapy promising as 'silent killer' treatment

National Cancer Institute / Roswell Park Cancer Institute

Doctors are working with a potentially significant new treatment for pancreatic cancer, by pumping up the body's immune system.

Called the silent killer, pancreatic cancer is one of the most feared branches of the disease because the standard survival time is in the months after diagnosis. There is no test for it and about 80 percent of the time it is found late stage after spreading to other organs.

British doctors are starting to use an immune therapy treatment, along with the drug considered standard chemotherapy treatment. Roswell Park Cancer Institute Assistant Professor Dr. Ajlan Atasoy says the treatment is now being used in very early stages of the disease because it seems to work better than later on.
"The recurrences of the disease coming back are much higher than we would hope, so we still need advances that we are working on," says Atasoy. "Once the disease has come back or if the patient already had metastases when they were first diagnosed, unfortunately the outcomes are quite dismal."

Dismal because the five-year survival rate is around four percent.

Credit Roswell Park Cancer Institute
Roswell Park Cancer Institute's Ajlan Atasoy, MD.

Atasoy says immunotherapy treatment is usually easier on the human body than chemotherapy by itself and new treatments like this are providing hope in a cancer area which has had little.

"With pancreatic cancer, maybe we are not where we would like to be at the moment, but we are seeing progress," Atasoy says. "It may be slow progress, but I think its characteristics of the tumor and its surroundings that are making things more difficult to understand and to treat, but we are seeing progress and we are hopeful about making more progress."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.