November 11, 2016 • 2 Min

Immunotherapy to Help Shrink Pancreatic Tumors for Surgery

microscope slide of Pancreas cross section embedded in paraffin wax, stained lavender, 10x magnification,

Rafael Mondini; Flickr

Does the addition of immunotherapy to standard chemotherapy and radiation help shrink tumors so they can be surgically removed?

Researchers are looking at that question in a clinical trial.

Shrinking the Tumor

One of the first treatments for newly-diagnosed pancreatic cancer patients is chemotherapy and radiation to shrink the tumor so it can be taken out. However, this treatment may not be completely effective at shrinking the tumor enough for removal.

In this trial participants are randomly assigned to receive either standard treatment with capecitabine (brand name Xeloda) and radiation, or capecitabine and radiation plus immunotherapy with pembrolizumab (brand name Keytruda). Capecitabine is part of a class of drugs called antimetabolites, and works by slowing the growth of cancer cells by disrupting the cell replication cycle. It is a prodrug—that is, it gets turned into an active drug form in the body, in this case becoming fluorouracil (5-FU). Radiation kills both diseased and normal cells.

Adding a Checkpoint Drug

Pembrolizumab is a monoclonal antibody that is part of a class called “checkpoint” drugs. These drugs help restore the immune functions of cells, so the body recognizes the cancer cells as foreign and kills them. By adding this drug to standard treatment, researchers are looking to see if it stimulates more of an immune response to attack the cancer, with a goal of making the tumor removable by surgery. They are looking at the effectiveness and safety of this drug, compared with participants who do not receive the extra drug.

We encourage you to consult your physicians for clinical trials that may be right for you. The website provides more details about this trial as well as many others. You can visit the EmergingMed Trial Finder for a listing of all active pancreatic cancer clinical trials.

To learn more about checkpoint drugs, read “Putting the Immune System on the Offensive.”

What new treatments and clinical trials are available to me?

Learn more