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Manchester to stage latest pancreatic cancer trial

14 March 2011

A new study funded by the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund, is using positron emission tomography – known as a PET scan – to understand and assess the effectiveness of chemotherapy much earlier than is currently possible through MRI or CT scans.

A new study funded by the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund, is using positron emission tomography – known as a PET scan – to understand and assess the effectiveness of chemotherapy much earlier than is currently possible through MRI or CT scans.

While MRI and CT scans show the size of a tumour, PET scans pick up tumour cell activity, which the researchers believe is likely to change in response to chemotherapy before any reduction in size can be seen.

“The aim is to increase our understanding of pancreatic cancer and see if using PET scans can help to predict prognosis,” explains Dr Azeem Saleem, honorary senior lecturer at the University of Manchester, who is leading the study. “We also hope that PET scans could be used to measure the effectiveness of new drugs, helping to speed up drug development and enable new treatments for pancreatic cancer to reach patients much faster.”

Pancreatic cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer death in the UK, but has the lowest survival rate. Just 3% of those diagnosed survive more than five years, and this figure has not improved in the last forty years. New treatments are desperately needed to improve the outlook for pancreatic cancer patients.

The Manchester study is in two parts. Ten pancreatic cancer patients will initially be recruited from North Manchester General Hospital and Manchester Royal Infirmary prior to surgery to remove their tumour. Each patient will have two PET scans and the results will be compared with histology reports taken from the tumour after surgery. This part of the study is being overseen by Mr. Derek O’Reilly, Consultant Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Surgeon at North Manchester General Hospital and Professor Ajith Siriwardena, Consultant Hepatobiliary and General Surgeon at the Manchester Royal Infirmary.

To obtain the PET images, the researchers use small, safe doses of radioactivity attached to markers which show increased tumour cell activity and the rate by which the tumour is able to grow.  PET scans will be done at the University of Manchester Wolfson Molecular Imaging Centre and overseen by Drs Prakash Manoharan, Ioannis Trigonis and Marie-Claude Asselin.

“By comparing the PET scans with the histology report, we can be sure that our imaging techniques are giving us the correct results in terms of pancreatic tumour activity before we move on to the next part of the study,” explains Dr Saleem.

The second part of the study involves scanning 10 pancreatic cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy at The Christie, overseen by Medical Oncologist, Dr Juan Valle. Each patient will be given PET scans during chemotherapy to assess changes to tumour activity, in addition to standard monitoring procedures.

“We’ll be looking to see if there is a particular point during the course of treatment which can offer the best early readout of response to the chemotherapy,” says Dr Saleem. “Most patients are scanned after six courses of treatment to look for changes in tumour size – but it may be that through the PET scans, we can show an impact after just one course of treatment.

“This technique may provide a way for consultants to change treatment early on if it’s not effective, and to help patients make an informed choice whether to continue with treatment where it significantly reduces their quality of 

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