Cancer Types | Pancreatic Cancer - NFCR

Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is the ninth and tenth most commonly diagnosed cancer in women and men, respectively, in the U.S. It is the fourth deadliest cancer for men and women. It is one of the few cancers for which survival has not improved substantially in over 40 years.

Key Facts

  • An estimated 57,600 new cases of pancreatic cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2020, with 47,050 deaths expected to result from the diagnosis.
  • Pancreatic cancer is expected to become the 2nd leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. by the year 2030.
  • The overall five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is just 9%.
  • Risk factors for developing pancreatic cancer include tobacco use, overweight and obesity, heavy exposure to certain chemicals, family history of the disease, age, chronic or hereditary pancreatitis, and long-standing type 2 diabetes. Individuals with Lynch syndrome and certain other genetic syndromes, as well as BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation carriers, are also at increased risk.
Source: American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts & Figures 2020 and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (2018)
new cases expected in 2020
deaths expected in 2020
% five-year survival rate

Pancreatic Cancer Research

In addition to specific projects listed below, genomics research is helping us attack pancreatic cancer – and all types of cancer. NFCR has distinguished itself from other organizations by emphasizing long-term, transformative research and working to move people toward cancer genomics.

Danny R. Welch, Ph.D.
Danny R. Welch, Ph.D.

Dr. Danny Welch and his team have discovered eight metastasis suppressor genes that get turned off when cancer cells become metastatic cells. The most recent of these discoveries is the ITI5H gene that blocks metastasis of pancreatic cancer in experimental models of metastasis. In a panel of human pancreatic cancer samples, expression of ITIH5 correlated with nearly 25% 7-year survival, compared to the 9% 5-year survival for most patients. While this discovery research is in its early stages, ITI5H holds promise for understanding how pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas metastasize and could be used as a biomarker to guide physicians in planning treatment for patients.

NFCR Fellow Dr. Yung-Chi Cheng
Yung-Chi Cheng, Ph.D.

NFCR began funding Dr. Yung-Chi Cheng in 1991 with his discovery research on PH-906 (now known as YIV-906) – a botanical drug that enhances ant-cancer activity in immunotherapy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. YIV-906 also protects the gastrointestinal tract, reducing the unpleasant side effects of chemotherapy. Patients with pancreatic cancer were some of the first patients to experience these beneficial properties of YIV-906 in early Phase I clinical trials.

With support from the NFCR AIM-HI Translational Research Initiative, Dr. Cheng has now brought YIV-906 to a global Phase II clinical trial in 2020. YIV-906 is first treating Hepatitis B Virus (HBV)-associated liver cancer in combination with sorafenib, a front-line drug that has modest response rates and serious toxicities. If YIV-906 improves patients’ outcomes, it could become one of the first FDA-approved oral herbal medicines for anti-cancer treatment. Its acceptance as an approved drug would facilitate future clinical trials to benefit patients with other types of cancer. Significantly, since YIV-906 affects multiple biological systems, it will usher in a new model for drug discovery to treat patients holistically.

Daniel Von Hoff, M.D
Daniel Von Hoff, M.D

Dr. Daniel Von Hoff has developed an antibody pipeline to create strategic therapies of ‘monoclonal antibodies’ – proteins that specifically bind and inhibit one substance. The first monoclonal antibodies in development are those that bind to a key molecular ‘target’ found on fibrotic cells that surround pancreatic and other types of cancer. Targets bound with antibody can no longer signal to tumor cells to metastasize from the primary tumor. With funds from NFCR, promising monoclonal antibodies are in final pre-clinical stages and may soon enter clinical trials to treat colorectal cancer patients who need a new effective treatment to save their lives. The strategic monoclonal antibodies to stop growth and metastasis in pancreatic and lung cancer will be a future application of this promising treatment.

Related Content

Coping With Cancer—It’s Different for Everyone

Everyone’s journey with cancer is different, also unique to them is the way in which they cope with the disease. Taking two late celebrities, Alex Trebek and Chadwick Boseman as an example, we can see the differences in how individuals deal with a cancer diagnosis. Pancreatic cancer may only rank at number nine and ten in terms of most commonly diagnosed cancers amongst men and women (respectively), but most Americans are well aware of the disease ever since Jeopardy host Alex Trebek was diagnosed last year. The deadly disease has a low five-year-survival rate at only 9%. Most Americans are well aware of the disease ever since the late Jeopardy host Alex Trebek was diagnosed in 2019 and sadly passed away in November 2020. Though undoubtedly a trying year for Trebek, his loved ones, and his fans, the game show host publicly battled his cancer with his return to Jeopardy in September 2020. A year-and-a-half after being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, Trebek became an inspiration for many affected by pancreatic cancer. Despite the side effects, which include fatigue, Trebek returned to the Jeopardy stage to do what he loved most. His passion for living life had his recently published memoir flying off the shelves. Appropriately titled ‘The Answer Is…: Reflections on My Life’, the memoir explores Trebek’s entire life to date – including his childhood through to his life during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though the memoir is not a story specifically about his cancer journey, Trebek used his fame to bring awareness to pancreatic cancer. In partnership with the World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition, Trebek participated in a worldwide awareness initiative wherein he encouraged the public to know the risk factors and the symptoms of the deadly disease. His fame sparked conversation about pancreatic cancer while showing the patients across the world that cancer does not define a person. While Trebek made great efforts to bring awareness to pancreatic cancer, some celebrities choose not to use their diagnosis to spearhead conversation. Actor Chadwick Boseman battled colon cancer before passing away in mid-2020. Unlike Trebek, he chose to keep his journey private. After his death, however, a wave of colon cancer awareness flooded the world. Both Trebek and Boseman are beloved by their fans; however the differences between their journeys with cancer highlight that, even as a celebrity, a cancer diagnosis is an extremely personal experience. For Trebek, raising awareness and talking about his difficult prognosis helped him cope with the news. Boseman found strength in continuing his life as normal, only discussing his cancer treatment with those closest to him. Trebek and Boseman are perfect and timely examples of how each person copes differently. There is no correct way to deal with a cancer diagnosis – whether a new diagnosis or an ongoing experience. Like many aspects of life, seeing someone else handle a situation differently can cause doubt with one’s own approach. However, as Trebek and Boseman nobly demonstrated, deciding whether to speak about a cancer diagnosis publicly is a personal choice. There is no right or wrong way for any patient to navigate such a decision. Each journey […]

Propelling the Fight Against Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA) is the most common type of pancreatic cancer, making up approximately 95% of the diagnoses. Though pancreatic cancer – in general – is relatively rare, experts expect to see pancreatic cancer rise to become the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States by 2030. The general five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is extremely low at only 9%. One of the key reasons why this cancer is so deadly is due to metastatic dissemination, or the way in which cancer cells spread from the tumor to other organs. For many years, researchers have been determined to discover ways in which to increase the five-year survival rate with little success. Recently, however, National Foundation for Cancer Research-funded researcher Dr. Daniel A. Haber has made a discovery that may pave the way for significant change in pancreatic cancer survival rates.  Dr. Haber, alongside a team of researchers, was fascinated by the way in which PDA cells spread and circulate. The cancerous cells were able to achieve a distant spread early in the diagnosis, resulting in a cancer that was extremely difficult to treat. No previous researchers had a strong understanding of how the cells spread nor how they targeted other organs, creating a major obstacle in developing a cure. As time progressed, some experts developed more effective therapies to treat PDA. Unfortunately, none of these therapies solved the riddle of the circulating cancer cells and were thereby deemed ineffective in changing the course of the disease.  Dr. Haber understood that to truly get a leg up on the disease, the mechanics of the disease would need to be fully understood. Together they developed a plan to analyze the unique mechanisms of these cells using innovative technology. The analysis would allow them to explore what drives these cells in targeting other organs in both early and late stages. Solving this mystery would inevitably allow for the successful development of targeted therapies that could propel the fight against pancreatic cancer.  To explore this pathway, the team used a tool referred to as the CTC-iChip. This tool allows researchers to separate cells of interest from other cells, such as red blood cells, platelets, and plasma. The team purified the circulating cancerous cells of PDA patients to explore varying cell sequences and the impact they had on the spread of disease. They successfully identified three major correlated gene sets, meaning researchers now have a formula in which they can perform molecular characterization of pancreatic cancer cells.   This ground-breaking discovery will act as a launchpad for developing specific and effective therapies for PDA patients. With these findings, researchers have a unique opportunity to correlate gene set metastatic profiles, identifying drivers of dissemination. Once identified, targeted therapies can be designed to target the ‘seeds’ of metastasis. It is an exciting time in cancer research as experts are now more equipped than ever to fight back against PDA and metastatic dissemination.  The National Foundation for Cancer Research is proud to fund innovative researchers like Dr. Haber who are leading the way in the fight against cancer. Ground-breaking discoveries such as this are made possible by the supporters of the National Foundation for […]

Lynparza® Approval Brings New Hope for Pancreatic Cancer Patients

Maintenance therapy previously approved for breast and ovarian cancer patients now shown to reduce the risk of disease progression or death by 47 percent among pancreatic cancer patients. Pancreatic cancer made headlines throughout 2019 after both Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek and U.S. Congressman John Lewis were diagnosed with the devastating illness. Although curable when caught early, pancreatic cancer often does not cause symptoms until the disease has reached an advanced stage and spread to other areas of the body (metastasized), making treatment more challenging. However, a new medication recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may bring hope to patients fighting this serious illness and their families. Lynparza® (Olaparib) has received approval from the FDA for use as a first-line maintenance therapy for patients diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer. Announced in December, the approval follows the publication of results from a clinical trial conducted by pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca and Merck & Co., Inc. – the makers of Lynparza – in The New England Journal of Medicine, which showed that the drug reduced the risk of disease progression or death by 47 percent in patients whose tumors experienced no growth after 16 weeks of treatment with a first-line platinum-based chemotherapy regimen. An Old Drug with a New Purpose First approved as a maintenance therapy for ovarian and breast cancers, Lynparza is a poly ADP ribose polymerase (PARP) inhibitor. PARP is an enzyme that helps cells repair damaged DNA. It is critical to the continued growth of cancer cells, which replicate faster than healthy cells and often contain damaged DNA that must be repaired for the cells to function. Lynparza blocks PARP from repairing the damaged DNA, causing the cells to die. As a result, Lynparza accomplishes a feat of which few other medications are capable ‒ it allows patients diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer to spend more time with family and friends without experiencing further progression of their illness. In the Phase III Pancreas Cancer Olaparib Ongoing (POLO) trial conducted by AstraZeneca and Merck & Co., Inc., which led to the approval of the drug for use in pancreatic cancer patients, Lynparza nearly doubled the amount of time that patients lived without disease progression or death – an average of 7.4 months versus 3.8 months for patients who took a placebo. At this time, Lynparza is the only PARP inhibitor approved to treat adult patients with deleterious or suspected deleterious germline BRCA-mutated metastatic pancreatic cancer whose tumors showed no growth after 16 weeks of chemotherapy treatment. Patients who are interested in learning more about Lynparza can visit the manufacturer’s website at Recent Advances Building on Previous Successes The National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) is proud to support researchers whose work has helped advance treatments for patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. At the NFCR Center for Targeted Cancer Therapies, co-director Daniel Von Hoff, MD, FACP, FASCO, FAACR, and his colleagues have conducted early clinical investigations on a number of revolutionary cancer therapies, including gemcitabine. NFCR’s support for Dr. Von Hoff’s gemcitabine research was profoundly successful, as the medication became the first drug shown to improve survival for […]