Hope for ‘inoperable’ cancer patients

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A new targeted treatment is giving pancreatic cancer patients hope for longer life.

Epworth HealthCare is the first private hospital group in Australia to offer the radiation therapy, which helps to reduce the size of locally-advanced tumours. 

It is tolerated better by the body than other treatments, and also makes surgery an option for patients who were considered inoperable due to the size of their tumour.

More than 4,000 Australians are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer every year, and by this stage 80 percent of them are too far advanced with the disease to have surgery.

“Until now, these patients would have undergone systemic chemotherapy if they are fit, with potential for many side-effects,” said Associate Professor Andrew Metz, Director of the Jreissati Family Pancreatic Centre at Epworth.

“Preliminary data shows a tumour-shrinking potential, increasing survival and enabling some patients, who have been inoperable, to have surgery. As the radiation only reaches the tumour, it is better tolerated.”  

Surgery is not an option for around a third of diagnosed patients who have locally-advanced tumours surrounding blood vessels near the pancreas.  

A/Prof Metz said the treatment involved P32 radiation particles being injected into the tumour during an endoscopic ultrasound. 

“Over the next three months, the radiation particles give a really high, targeted dose of radiation just to the tumour,” he said. 

“Just delivering the radiation into the tumour limits the effect to structures surrounding the pancreas, avoiding a whole lot of side-effects.”  

The treatment is being provided through the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) Special Access Scheme, with the Epworth Medical Foundation funding care for 10 patients at a cost of $100,000.  

Pancreatic cancer affects men slightly more than women, usually being diagnosed in those aged in their 60s or 70s.  

However, researchers at the Melbourne centre are noticing a new group of patients – younger women in their 30s and 40s.  

The first Epworth patient to be treated was a 42-year-old woman, who initially went to her general practitioner due to stomach pain and bloating after eating only small amounts of food.  

“I felt something wasn’t quite right,” she said.  

“I had several scans and blood tests but they all came back normal. My GP suggested taking probiotics or changing my diet and coming back in a few weeks if it did not improve.

“I underwent more scans and an MRI, which showed the lump in the pancreas.”   

Having more options for treatment will give patients a brighter future.

Read more: New centre shines light on cancer’s ‘dark art’

Read more: Australian first – ‘Nanoknife’ zaps cancer cells

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