New medications available for pancreatic cancer

October 6, 2011 4:42:04 PM PDT
Steve Jobs, Patrick Swayze even our own Marvin Zindler all died after battling pancreatic cancer. The disease moves quickly, and in many cases, patients don't have a lot of time after they're diagnosed. We have a closer look at the disease, as well as a new treatment option.

Thomas Makransky has the same kind of rare pancreatic cancer that Steve Jobs had.

But there are some new options for pancreatic cancer today. Afinitor is a drug that's available now that wasn't available when Jobs got sick.

"The outlook for me is pretty good," Makransky said.

And he credits Afinitor, which he takes as a pill. It was developed at M.D. Anderson and FDA approved in May.

"Prior to this, when a patient had a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor there was only one approved drug and that was approved 30 years ago," Dr. James Yao.

Afinitor originally was an anti-rejection drug for organ transplant patients and Dr. Yao thought maybe it would fight cancer He was right.

"In some way, it's tricking the cancer cell to think it's actually starving," he said.

There are more new treatments in the pipeline. Makransky received his eighth IV treatment with an experimental medicine called IMC-12. Together, the new treatments are helping.

"They've been able to shrink the tumor and that's really a good thing," Makransky said.

"Now we have two additional agents approved for this disease," Dr. Yao said. "So we certainly hope patients today will do much better."

Afinitor, the new pancreatic cancer drug, may also work against other types of cancer, including breast cancer.

As for Steve Jobs, his death touched Dr. Yao.

"I was actually a computer science major in college so I really admire some of his work," he said.

So did Makransky, who may be able to benefit from some of the new treatments that came too late for Jobs.

Even though it seems like pancreatic cancer is more common, the number of cases has actually been declining. A drop in the number of people who smoke, may be one of the reasons why.

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