With nearly 50,000 new cases of pancreatic cancer reported yearly in the United States and some 40,000 deaths, the race to find better treatments for the disease is well under way. Even so, researchers have been plagued in their efforts to improve outcome for patients diagnosed with this form of cancer. With a 10-year survival rate of less than 10 percent, those diagnosed often find their prognosis rather bleak. Researchers, however, may have found a way to nearly double the survival rate for some patients. Not necessarily a cure, the new technique serves to effectively corral cancer cells without destroying healthy nearby tissue.

Known as irreversible electroporation, or IRE, the procedure involves zapping pancreatic cancer cells with small, but potent bursts of electricity. Those bursts leave holes behind in the cells, eventually causing them to die. Researchers have found when this therapy is used following chemotherapy and other forms of treatment, patients experienced an extended lifespan. Many patients in the study group saw their life expectancy extend by about two years, but some were followed for as long as seven. Side effects were present in about half the cases involved in the study, but researchers noted most were rather mild.

While IRE is showing itself effective for treating some forms of pancreatic cancer, it’s not indicated for advanced tumors that have spread beyond the original site. Further study must also be done before the procedure might see widespread use. IRE, by the way, isn’t a new option in cancer treatment. It’s been used with some success in treating prostate cancer, as well.

People who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are urged to discuss all their treatment options carefully with their healthcare providers. The best recommendations for treatment will come directly from providers who have knowledge of the case specifics. Treatment will generally include surgery and/or chemotherapy when indicated. Not all pancreatic cancer cases are operable.