A Cancer Research UK-funded study has determined that the combination of two chemotherapy drugs — gemcitabine and capecitabine — should be the new standard of care for pancreatic cancer patients who have had surgery to remove their tumor. The results were published in The Lancet.

Twenty-nine percent of patients given the drug combination lived for at least five years compared with only 16 percent of patients given gemcitabine alone, which is the standard treatment following surgery.

The results show that this treatment plan is predicted to double the number of patients who survive their disease for at least five years. The study's findings were first presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in June 2016 and now have been peer-reviewed.

“This is one of the biggest ever breakthroughs prolonging survival for pancreatic cancer patients,” said trial lead and University of Liverpool professor John Neoptolemos. “When this combination becomes the new standard of care, it will give many patients living with the disease valuable months and even years.

“The difference in short-term survival may seem modest, but improvement in long-term survival is substantial for this type of cancer.”

This recommendation follows results from a clinical trial of 732 patients in hospitals across the UK, German, Sweden, and France.

Around half of patients on the trial received gemcitabine and the other half received a combination of gemcitabine and capecitabine.

There was no significant difference in side effects between the patients on the standard treatment and the combination treatment. Side effects included a drop in blood cells causing an increased risk of infection, bleeding or bruising problems, tiredness or shortness of breath, sore mouth, diarrhea, feeling sick or being sick, sore hands and feet, flu-like symptoms.

This trial was set up in 2008 to address the poor pancreatic cancer survival rates.

“Research that tells us more about how the disease grows and spreads — and trials like this one — will be key to improve survival for patients living with the disease,” said Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician. “There are still big leaps to be made, but Cancer Research UK is investing heavily into research to take on pancreatic cancer, and we are just starting to see the results.”