For the 53,000 Americans diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year, finding a successful treatment for the disease is a race against the clock. With a five-year survival rate of less than 10 percent, this form of cancer claims an estimated 41,000 lives annually. Thanks to few early signs and symptoms, most patients are diagnosed in later stages of the disease, complicating the likelihood of successful treatment. This is why a new combination treatment is showing such great signs of promise.

In many pancreatic cancer cases, tumors simply do not respond to treatments that have been proven successful in beating other forms of cancer. The new combo therapy involves the use of a drug known as a focal adhesion kinase inhibitor. This drug has been shown to enhance tumor response to treatments such as chemotherapy and immunotherapy. Essentially, it serves as boost that may enable successful treatment.

To better understand the role inhibitors may play in more successful pancreatic cancer treatment, researchers recently conducted a study using mice. The subjects had pancreatic tumors that were treated with chemo alone, immunotherapy alone, an inhibitor alone or a combination of treatments. The study ultimately found the inhibitor coupled with either chemo or immunotherapy showed greater tumor response. If all three were combined, however, the response was even more positive. Survival estimates for some of the mice tripled after using the triple treatment and some mice showed no signs of disease progression six months after therapy.

While more study is required to gauge the full benefits of adding an inhibitor into the treatment protocol, researchers say the findings are quite positive. How soon this form of treatment might be recommended in routine care remains unclear.

People who are at risk for pancreatic cancer should speak with their healthcare providers. It is also important for those who are diagnosed with the disease to carefully discuss all treatment options with their doctors. The best course of action will hinge on the particulars of a patient’s case.