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Even with aggressive and skilled treatment, pancreatic cancer is often deadly.

But, work by West Cancer Center’s Dr. Axel Grothey — in partnership with doctors at the Mayo Clinic — shows that a new treatment protocol offers better outcomes for patients with the disease.

Research published in the Annals of Surgery details an approach used by Grothey and his former colleagues at the Mayo Clinic. Grothey, a medical oncologist, joined the West Cancer Center & Research Institute in 2018, coming over from the Mayo Clinic. Traditional pancreatic cancer treatments have a nine to 15-month survival rate, making it one of the deadliest cancers due to its quick spread and typical diagnosis in later, more advanced stages. A traditional treatment regime consists of chemotherapy and/or radiation to try to shrink a tumor and pull it away from a vein or artery.

The American Cancer Society estimates that about 57,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer annually and that about 45,000 die from the disease each year.

In the new treatment protocol used by West’s Grothey and Mayo Clinic doctors, extended personalized chemotherapy treatments are used until tumor markers are within a normal range. Radiation and surgical treatments follow if PET scans show the tumor has been destroyed.

Of the 194 patients treated with the new protocol, close to 90 percent had longer survival rates. That group of patients had an average survival rate of 5 years. And, for about a third of the treatment group, the researchers “couldn’t calculate average survival because they’re alive and doing very well,” Grothey said in a release.

“A cure is only achievable if control of the tumor spread occurs and the primary tumor can be removed,” Grothey said. He noted that not all patients are right for the new protocol but, for certain patients, the new treatment offers hope.

“In the right patients, we’re more than happy to be aggressive,” he said.