In recent years, drugs called PARP inhibitors, which work by preventing cancer cells that have been damagedoften during the course of chemotherapyfrom naturally healing themselves, have shown significant promise in treating ovarian cancer and breast cancer.
But today for the very first time, we're seeing evidence that the drugs are effective in treating pancreatic cancer, too.Read More
One year later, researchers followed up to find that 34 percent of those in the Lynparza group had not shown any signs that their cancer was coming back, compared with 15 percent of those who got the placebo. Then two years later, these numbers were 22 percent and 10 percent, respectively.
The results are encouragingnot only because advanced pancreatic cancer is particularly difficult to treat, but also because this is the first time a PARP inhibitor has been shown to work this way in pancreatic cancer at all.
One caveat worth noting is that the chance of experiencing side effects was much higher for those given Lynzpara (40 percent) than it was for those who were just treated with the chemo followed by a placebo (20 percent). The severity depends on the individual and the cancer, but often, the side effects for PARP inhibitors include anemia, gastrointestinal discomfort like nausea and vomiting, and fatigue.
It's also important to pay attention to the genetic makeup of the pancreatic cancers for those who benefitted from Lynzpara; for the outcomes to improve, it was essential that tumors had BRCA mutations.
"What a BRCA mutation is is a defect in your ability to repair a double strand break," Dr. Rebecca Arend, assistant professor in gynecologic oncology at the University of Birmingham in Alabama, previously explained to SurvivorNet. "If you have a PARP inhibitor [like Lynparza], then you can’t repair that single strand break."
Dr. Arend explained this phenomenon to us in the context of ovarian cancer treatment, but it works the same way in pancreatic cancer, according to the news presented today.
So to summarize, the chemo drugs kill the cancer cells by damaging their DNA. Then afterward, when they would normally start repairing their DNA, the PARP inhibitor drug swoops in and, with the help of the specific BRCA defect, halts the repair process.
Because having a BRCA mutation may mean you're eligible for this new type of treatment, it's important to talk to your oncologist about getting genetic testing done as soon as your initial diagnosis.