A combination of two chemotherapy drugs has shown promising results in fighting pancreatic cancer, significantly improving five-year survival rates, according to a new European study.

The trial demonstrated that patients who take the oral drug capecitabine, in addition to treatment with the commonly-used intravenous drug gemcitabine after surgical removal of pancreatic cancer, survived longer without any significant increase in negative side effects.

Involving 732 patients, this was one of the largest trials ever conducted in pancreatic cancer.

Smitha Krishnamurthi of Case Western Reserve University, who was not involved with the study, said:

“Pancreatic cancer remains one of the most hard-to-treat cancers. It is a major win to find that adding a generic chemotherapy not only improves survival for these patients, but does so with little effect on patients’ quality of life."

A Fighting Chance For Survival

Although most people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are not candidates for surgery, the findings show that those who can have surgery have a fighting chance of surviving this cancer with the combination of two commonly used chemotherapies, said John Neoptolemos, the study’s lead author of the University of Liverpool.

The study showed a five-year survival rate of 28.8 percent among the group treated with both capecitabine and gemcitabine for six months, compared with 16.3 percent for the group that received gemcitabine alone during that time.

The median overall survival rate was 28 months with the combination of drugs, compared to 25.5 months with gemcitabine alone.

“The difference in median survival may seem modest, but the improvement in long-term survival is substantial for this cancer,” Neoptolemos said in a statement.

The study’s determination that the gemcitabine-capecitabine treatment is safe allows researchers to consider what other treatments could be added effectively.

The study was presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting in Chicago.

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