Vitamin A May Boost Chemotherapy Success in Pancreatic Cancer

Vitamin A combined with Gemzar found to reduce proliferation of cancer cells.

A form of vitamin A used in combination with chemotherapy may help increase the success of treating pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer is difficult to treat and has a survival rate of 3%. Although surgery provides patients with the best chance of survival, most are diagnosed after the cancer has metastasized.

Furthermore, chemotherapy and radiotherapy used separately are found to be relatively unsuccessful in treatment. In a study conducted by University of Queen Mary London, researchers used cell cultures and mice to test a new approach that simultaneously targets cancer and stromal cells, which make up 80% of pancreatic cancer tissue.

Researchers used the chemotherapy drug gemcitabine (Gemzar) to target cancer cells, and a form of vitamin A to target the surrounding stromal cells. The results of the study showed a reduction in the invasion and proliferation of cancer cells.

This combined approach blocked multiple cell signaling pathways that cancer cells use to become aggressive, causing communication to become less effective and preventing tumor growth.

“This is the first time that we have combined vitamin A with chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer,” said lead researcher Hemant Kocher. “The results are so promising that we're now taking this into a clinical trial.”

This new approach is being tested in the clinical trial STARPAC, which is currently recruiting participants with a goal of establishing a safe combination of 2 chemotherapy drugs with a stromal targeting agent.

“Pancreatic cancer is extremely hard to treat by chemotherapy, so this finding is important because vitamin A targets the non-cancerous tissue and makes the existing chemotherapy more effective, killing the cancer cells and shrinking tumors,” Kocher said. “This could potentially be applicable to other cancers because if we try to understand the cancer as a whole, including its surrounding tissue, we may be able to develop new and better treatments.”