The number of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer has been rising for years. At the moment, it concerns about 2,800 patients annually. It is expected that by 2032 there will be more than four thousand. Pancreatic cancer is the most dangerous type of cancer. After five years, 4 percent of patients are still alive. This proportion has hardly increased in recent decades.
But there seems to be good news for a small percentage of patients. US research shows that the vaccine can prevent the disease from coming back after surgery. “It looks promising,” agrees surgeon Casper van Eijk of Erasmus MC Rotterdam, who specializes in treating pancreatic cancer.
Doctors call it a milestone, but they are wary at the same time. Only sixteen patients participated in the American study, as the vaccine prevented the disease from returning after a few years by half. It’s unique, because we know from pancreatic cancer that tumors don’t respond to immunotherapy. Now that worked. But this study concerns a very select group of patients, who belong to the 10 percent who have the best chance of survival,” answers Hanke Wilminck, a medical oncologist at UMC Amsterdam.
The difficult thing about pancreatic cancer is that the tumors grow quickly and spread easily. In 90 percent of patients who can be operated on, the disease returns again.
The study now needs to be done on a larger scale to ensure the results are good for more patients. Erasmus MC is already registered to participate in the study from the Netherlands. “If we can get started, only a limited number of patients will be able to participate,” Van Eijck warns. They must first qualify for surgery and then be visually clean. Then there is a group that receives the vaccine, but also a control group.
By the way, it is a very intense treatment. Cancer cells are safe during the operation. The proteins on it were analyzed for the vaccine. Using this information, mRNA vaccines – also designed for Corona – that teach the immune system to attack cancer cells have been produced. The idea is that from now on the body will recognize the cells and eliminate them immediately, so that the disease does not return. A separate vaccine is made for each patient. Wilminck: “Not every patient has succeeded or made the vaccine work. We now have to see if survival really increases, also for a longer period of time. We desperately need the treatments, so hopefully this is the start of something beautiful.”
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