An early study from the Queen Mary University of London found that the addition of high doses of a form of vitamin A could help make chemotherapy more successful in treating pancreatic cancer.
Around 8,800 people in the UK are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year. It is known as the UK’s deadliest cancer, with a survival rate of just 3%.
Chemotherapy and radiotherapy alone are relatively unsuccessful in treating the disease, and while surgery to remove the tumor offers the best chance of survival, most patients are diagnosed when cancer has already spread to other organs.
A different approach is therefore needed to target cancer more effectively.
Cancer cells are surrounded by other cells called ‘stromal cells’, which can make up 80 percent of pancreatic cancer tissue.
These relatively normal tissue cells communicate with the cancer cells and play a major role in cancer progression and could offer a new target for treatment.
The study, in cell cultures and mice, tested a new approach of targeting stromal cells and cancer cells simultaneously.
The researchers used ‘gemcitabine’ chemotherapy to target cancer cells and a form of vitamin A to target the surrounding stromal cells. The combined approach led to a reduction in cancer cell proliferation and invasion.
The team says this was the first time that researchers combined vitamin A with chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer. The results are so promising that we’re now taking this into a clinical trial.
Pancreatic cancer is extremely hard to treat by chemotherapy, so this finding is important because vitamin A targets the non-cancerous tissue and makes the existing chemotherapy more effective, killing the cancer cells and shrinking tumors.
This could potentially be applicable to other cancers because if we try to understand cancer as a whole, including its surrounding tissue, we may be able to develop new and better treatments.
The team warns that patients should note that consumption of Vitamin A supplements is not recommended at this stage, as the results are not proven in human clinical trials.
For more information about cancer risk, please see recent studies about drug that can strengthen immune system to fight cancer, and results showing Aspirin may boost survival in these cancers.
The study was published in The Journal of Pathology and conducted by Professor Hemant Kocher et al.
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