The use of chemotherapy following surgery reduces the risk of death from operable pancreatic cancer by around 30 per cent, says new research published in the British Journal of Cancer* today.

Pancreatic cancer is the tenth most common cancer. Nearly 7,600 people are diagnosed with the disease in the UK each year. But, survival rates remain a major concern – only around two or three per cent of patients survive for more than five years.

The new research, funded by Cancer Research UK, shows that patients who had surgery and chemotherapy with a drug called 5FU alongside folinic acid, had a five year survival rate of 24 per cent. This was compared to 14 per cent for those who only had surgery.

The researchers used the results of three clinical trials undertaken by The European Study Group for Pancreatic Cancer (ESPAC) to compare data of over 450 patients.

The study confirms the results of previous research which suggests patients who had surgery and chemotherapy had better a chance of survival than patients who only had surgery.

Professor John Neoptolemos, lead researcher based at the University of Liverpool, said: “Pancreatic cancer continues to be one of the hardest cancers to treat and has very low survival rates.

“These results show that chemotherapy after surgery is the best way to treat patients, giving people precious extra months or even years of life.

“There is still a long way to go before we can really reduce the number of people that die from the disease but this research moves us in the right direction. The next step will be to investigate different combinations of drugs to see if they work any better than this treatment.”

Kate Law, director of clinical trials at Cancer Research UK, said: “In the past it has been unclear what the best way to treat pancreatic cancer is. But, these results reinforce previous trial findings and show undoubtedly that chemotherapy after surgery offers the best hope for patients who have operable pancreatic cancer.

“Cancer Research UK recently launched a five year strategy to specifically target cancers with poor survival rates such as pancreatic cancer.

“Huge advancements have been made in beating cancer over the past thirty years. But progress has been faster in some areas than others. The strategy focuses our attention on those areas which will have the greatest impact on reducing cancer deaths in the future and on achieving our goals.”


For media enquiries please contact the press office on 020 7061 8300 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.


British Journal of Cancer

The BJC is owned by Cancer Research UK. Its mission is to encourage communication of the very best cancer research from laboratories and clinics in all countries. Broad coverage, its editorial independence and consistent high standards have made BJC one of the world’s premier general cancer journals.

About pancreatic cancer

The pancreas is part of the digestive system and lies just behind the stomach. It is a large gland that makes digestive juices and insulin. Pancreatic cancer is the tenth most common form of the disease in the UK. It is more common than ovarian cancer and leukaemia and twice as common as cervical cancer. The disease affects around 65,000 in Europe as a whole and a further 31,000 in the USA. For more information on the disease log on to

About Cancer Research UK

  • Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK’s vision is to beat cancer.
  • Cancer Research UK carries out world-class research to improve understanding of the disease and find out how to prevent, diagnose and treat different kinds of cancer.
  • Cancer Research UK ensures that its findings are used to improve the lives of all cancer patients.
  • Cancer Research UK helps people to understand cancer, the progress that is being made and the choices each person can make.
  • Cancer Research UK works in partnership with others to achieve the greatest impact in the global fight against cancer.
  • For further information about Cancer Research UK’s work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 020 7121 6699 or visit our homepage.