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A patient and a nurse

Clinical trials lead to improvements in cancer treatment

Finding new treatments for rare and hard-to-treat cancers is one of our greatest challenges.

The best way of testing out new or improved treatments is to run a clinical trial, involving as many patients as possible, to compare the potentially better option with the best current treatment.

A team of Cancer Research UK-funded scientists has done just this, to assess the merits of a new treatment method for advanced gall bladder and bile duct cancer that can’t be operated on.

These cancers together affect fewer than 2,000 people per year in the UK, making trials harder to run. As a result, doctors only had limited evidence on which to base treatment decisions.

To help improve this situation, the Cancer Research UK-funded team have carried out the largest ever large-scale clinical trial for these cancers, which are difficult to treat successfully. The trial, called ABC02, was run by Cancer Research UK and the UCL Clinical Trials Centre.

Over 400 patients across the UK took part in the study, which tested whether those who were given a combination of two drugs – gemcitabine and cisplatin – responded to treatment better than those who received gemcitabine on its own. Patients were treated for 24 weeks, and the trial ran from mid 2005 to late 2008.

The results were striking. The combined drug treatment improved survival by a third, compared to patients who received the single drug. And the patients having this treatment lived on average over three months longer.

This may not sound like a very long time, but all these patients had advanced disease – and just a few months can make the world of difference to a terminally-ill patient and their family.

We asked the trial’s co-ordinator, Dr John Bridgewater, to explain more about ABC02 and its outcome:

Dr Bridgewater’s findings have huge implications for treatment of advanced gall bladder and bile duct cancer, and are published today in the New England Journal of Medicine. And – more importantly –  they have already changed how treatment is given to patients in hospitals across the world.

Bile duct and gall bladder cancers may receive less media attention than breast cancer or other cancer types, but despite the lack of headlines these results represent significant progress.

Doctors can now give patients a treatment that we know offers real benefits. And it also means that we now have a standard against which we can compare newer, potentially even better treatments in the future.

Laura Dibb, Cancer Research UK Press Officer


Reference

Valle, J. et al (2010). Cisplatin plus Gemcitabine versus Gemcitabine for Biliary Tract Cancer New England Journal of Medicine, 362 (14), 1273-1281 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa0908721