4 Questions to Ask About Pancreatic Cancer

(DGIwire) – Located behind the stomach, the pancreas plays a vital role in creating enyzmes for digestion and hormones like insulin, according to the American Cancer Society. It is also a common site of cancer. For anyone who has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer—or who knows someone who has—getting basic facts quickly from a qualified healthcare professional is essential to ensure optimal treatment. Here are four questions to ask:

  • What are the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer? Signs and symptoms in pancreatic cancer often don’t occur until the disease is advanced, the Mayo Clinic reports. They may include pain in the upper abdomen that radiates to the back, loss of appetite or unintended weight loss, depression, new-onset diabetes, blood clots, fatigue, and yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes.
  • How is pancreatic cancer diagnosed? Various tests can be used to confirm a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. These can include imaging tests such as CT scans and MRI; an endoscopic ultrasound to make images of the pancreas from inside the abdomen; removing a tissue sample to perform a biopsy; and performing blood tests, the Mayo Clinic notes.
  • How is pancreatic cancer treated? Treatment depends on the stage of the disease and whether the tumor has spread beyond the pancreas. Most patients will receive surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. The typical chemotherapy consists of a combination of cytotoxics that provide some benefit but are highly toxic to normal cells and may be poorly tolerated by patients.
  • What new treatments are being studied for pancreatic cancer? In contrast to traditional methodologies involving surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, some of today’s researchers are taking a more targeted approach. “It may be possible to create drugs that interact with enzymes found only in cancer cells, in effect using molecular tools to kill those cells,” says Peter D. Suzdak, Ph.D., CEO of Rexahn Pharmaceuticals.

Rexahn is studying a compound named RX-3117 in metastatic pancreatic cancer and advanced bladder cancer. Broadly, RX-3117—which has been granted orphan drug designation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration—can bind with UCK2, an activation enzyme found only in cancer cells. Once activated, this compound travels into a cancer cell’s nucleus where it is incorporated into the DNA and RNA, resulting in the cell’s death. This approach differs from traditional chemotherapy, which non-selectively kills both cancer cells and normal health tissue in the body.

Studies to date indicated that in addition to selectively targeting cancer cells while leaving healthy cells intact, RX-3117 has shown few severe adverse events, allows oral dosing and may be active against hard-to-treat cancers. It may also be able to work in tandem with existing therapies and facilitate a spectrum of anticancer activity. Rexahn completed a Phase 2a clinical study of RX-3117 in metastatic pancreatic cancer as a third-line treatment demonstrating safety and initial efficacy. A Phase 2a combination study with nab-paclitaxel in newly diagnosed pancreatic cancer patients was initiated in late 2018. More information about the latter study can be found at https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03189914.

“Additional studies may give a better idea of the power of targeted therapy to address some of the hardest-to-treat cancers such as those originating in the pancreas,” Dr. Suzdak adds.

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