Purple ribbon for pancreatic awareness. Now there are new technologies for treating this disease.

New targeted therapy helps pancreatic cancer patients

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A new form of targeted therapy, peptide receptor radionuclide therapy (PRRT), is offering patients with a specific kind of tumor a chance to shrink cancer cells without the harsh side effects.

How does PRRT work?

For decades, pancreatic cancer patients have had limited options for treatment — most turn to surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy. But PRRT offers a new kind of technology and a new wave of hope for patients.

The goal of PRRT is to slow or stop tumor progression, relieve the side effects of the tumor, and ultimately buy valuable time — in some cases years — for patients with the disease.

PRRT involves a drug made up of a cell-targeting protein combined with a radioactive substance (lutetium), which then gets injected into the patient’s bloodstream. The drug flows past other tissues and attaches to the tumor, causing cancer cell death.

 “Unlike traditional forms of radiation therapy, this approach radiates the tumor from within with little effect on the surrounding normal tissues,” says Alexandru Bageac, MD, medical co-director for radiology and section chief for nuclear medicine at Methodist Dallas Medical Center. “Plus, there are fewer limits on the number or location of tumor sites that can be treated.” 

PRRT is an out-patient procedure, and the four treatment sessions each last four hours and are scheduled eight weeks apart. 

“After each therapy dose, the tumors may become smaller, but most patients will see the full effect several weeks after the fourth dose,” Dr. Bageac says. 

PRRT goes directly to the tumor. It also has minimal side effects when injected — only occasional nausea or vomiting — and no known long-term negative effects.

Who can receive PRRT?

The therapy is designed to treat neuroendocrine tumors, commonly known as NETs, of the pancreas, stomach, and bowel. It’s an option for patients whose cancer has spread to other organs, who are not eligible for surgery, or whose symptoms have not improved with other treatments or therapies.

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