Treating pancreatic cancer based on a patient’s tumor biology improves outcomes

About one in four pancreatic cancer patients have changes in their tumor that suggest certain treatments may work particularly well for them. And new findings show that those in this group who are able to get treatment that matches their tumor biology live an average of one year longer compared to patients who don’t.

Genetic changes patients were born with can also impact treatment decisions.

So, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) recommends all pancreatic cancer patients receive testing – both genetic (germline) testing and molecular profiling.

This applies to patients who have not started treatment, those on treatment and those who don’t need treatment now. Test results can help inform treatment options, including future treatments, if needed.

But what types of treatment are available based on these results? Here, we explore what options may be revealed.

Drugs Commonly Used to Treat Pancreatic Cancer

Test results may show whether one standard chemotherapy is more likely to work better than another for a specific patient.

For example, some pancreatic cancer patients have genetic changes, like BRCA mutations, that limit cancer cells’ ability to fix DNA damage. Research has shown that chemotherapies that contain platinum, like oxaliplatin or cisplatin, are particularly effective in patients with these changes.

Drugs Approved to Treat Cancers with Specific Mutations

In recent years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also approved several treatments for patients whose DNA or whose tumors have specific changes.

A targeted drug, Lynparza®, is approved for certain pancreatic cancer patients who were born with BRCA mutations.

Keytruda® is an immunotherapy approved for cancer patients whose tumors have high microsatellite instability (MSI) or DNA mismatch repair deficiency.

Vitrakvi® and ROZLYTREK® are both targeted therapies approved for cancer patients whose tumors have a neurotrophic receptor tyrosine kinase (NTRK) gene fusion.

Off-label Treatments

Sometimes, testing shows changes that are more often seen in another cancer type, and there may be drugs that work particularly well for that group. A doctor can prescribe these “off-label” when it makes sense for the patient.

Off-label treatments are FDA-approved to treat another cancer but have shown some promise in pancreatic cancer.

These can be any type of treatment, including chemotherapy, immunotherapy or targeted therapy.

An example of an off-label treatment that has benefited a small group of pancreatic cancer patients is a targeted therapy called an ALK inhibitor.

If any pancreatic cancer patients have challenges getting insurance coverage or accessing a treatment based on molecular profiling or genetic testing results, including off-label treatments, PanCAN’s PanCAN Patient Services has resources to help.

Clinical Trials

There are also clinical trials investigating treatments for patients with specific changes.

These may be new investigational treatments or existing treatments whose effects are being studied in people with certain characteristics.

Nearly one in five pancreatic cancer clinical trials enrolling patients right now are based on tumor biology.

PanCAN Patient Services can find clinical trials for patients based on their test results and other personalized criteria.

Get Tested, Expand Your Options

There are only a handful of drugs approved to treat all patients with pancreatic adenocarcinoma (the most common type of pancreatic cancer). But when patients get molecular profiling and genetic testing, results may open up options that would not otherwise be considered.

Many of these drugs are only available to pancreatic cancer patients if they have specific changes, which patients cannot know without getting tested.

Testing is available through PanCAN’s free Know Your Tumor® precision medicine service. The service also gives patients and their healthcare teams a list of treatment options that may align with any changes found.

The tests may also be available through the patient’s doctor or a clinical trial.

When patients get their test results, they should talk about them with their doctor or PanCAN Patient Services.

PanCAN Patient Services can review molecular profiling and genetic testing results with patients to help them better understand the information and what treatment options may be available.

Contact a Patient Central Associate
Contact Patient Central to enroll in Know Your Tumor, for more information about testing or for help understanding test results you already have.