John Marshall, MD:So, this is a fairly typical case of a patient with pancreatic cancer66 years old. She presents actually with jaundice and some abdominal discomfort. She gets worked up and found to have, on CT, a pancreas mass, and the mass is big enough that it has now pinched her bile duct. And so, she’s jaundiced, and her labs show that. Her cancer marker is elevated and so she goes to GI. She has an upper endoscopy, an ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography) stent is placed, and brushings are taken. At that point, she is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Now, typical imaging is doneusually CT and endoscopic ultrasound is standard—and she’s found that maybe she might be surgically resectable. And so, she heads off to the operating room, and the findings at surgery, unfortunately, are that she has metastatic disease to her liver at that point. And so, the surgeon appropriately opts to not do an operation, sews her back up, and sends her to the medical oncologist.
She shows up a few weeks later, and about a month later, initiates treatment with systemic chemotherapy. And the choice that was made was nab-paclitaxel, or Abraxane, and gemcitabine combination, a 2-drug combination; that gets initiated. She tolerates it pretty well. She has some mild nausea, which is pretty easy to control, and she has some fatigue that is typical of the cancer and the chemotherapy. But she also has a little bit of neutropenia, which is managed through our usual routes, sometimes using growth factor support. She tolerates it pretty well, in general, and undergoes repeat scanning a month or so later. And she actually has a really nice response. Liver lesions are no longer visible and the pancreas mass remains fairly stable. She continues on treatment for a little while longer and eventually develops a complication of some diabetes. She gets admitted to the hospital for that. Not an uncommon problem that we see when we’re beating on people’s pancreases, with chemotherapy, and all of that for them to get some diabetes, lose glucose control. So, in that evaluation, she’s also found to have some progression of disease.
And so, new liver lesions, new-onset diabetes, it’s time to change therapy. And nowadays, of course, we have a variety of choices in second-line therapy. But because of this woman’s ageshe’s under the age of 70, good performance status still—the doctor decides to give her full monty chemotherapy of the combination regimen of FOLFIRINOX in the second-line setting. And she’s off that treatment now.
So, this is a fairly typical patient presenting with pancreatic cancer. She has already got symptomsjaundice, probably some pain, and doesn’t feel right. And this cancer, almost in everybody, brings them down a rung or two on the performance status tier. This patient is no different. Also, being 66, it’s important to recognize that fairly aggressive chemotherapy such as FOLFIRINOX may not be all that well-tolerated and may be difficult to get into her. And so, I put those pieces of the puzzle together and say that this is a good case for gemcitabine/nab-paclitaxel frontline therapy.
You want to ask some other deeper questions, too, about a patient. Lives alone or not? How much support does the patient have? Really, how well are they? What are the other comorbidities? All of that factors into a decision as to how one picks what you’re going to use in frontline therapy.
Pancreas cancer’s terrible. The problem with this disease is it has a very short timeline in terms of overall survival. We are doing better. If a patient really asked and wanted me to pin this down, under 1 year is typical survival. There are a few patients who make it longer than a year with metastatic pancreas cancer. And that’s really coming on the backs of successful first-line, and now second-line, chemotherapy. So, her overall prognosis is not good. There are a few lucky folksthey’re what we call “the tail on the curve”—but there are some on the other end that really never respond to treatment and don’t do well at all.
Transcript edited for clarity.