Stepping up patient participation in clinical trials is essential if new treatments are to be developed that can improve the currently dismal prognosis for pancreatic cancer, a US-based advocacy organisation has urged.

The five-year relative survival rate for the disease is just 6%, notes the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, which wants to double that figure by 2020. The lack of available treatment options for pancreatic cancer means enrolment in clinical trials is critical for both current and future patients, the Network says.

As things stand, only three drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration are available to treat pancreatic adenocarcinoma, the most common form of pancreatic cancer.

Given that 94% of pancreatic cancer patients succumb to the disease within five years of diagnosis, “more treatment options are desperately needed to improve patient outcomes”, stresses Julie Fleshman, president and chief executive officer of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

The Network recommends that all patients consider clinical trials when exploring treatment options, such as the emerging class of targeted Hedgehog inhibitors.

The organisation’s Patient and Liaison Services (PALS) programme offers a personalised eligibility search of all pancreatic cancer-specific trials taking place across the US.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer related-death in the United States. In 2011, more than 44,000 Americans were diagnosed with the disease and nearly 38,000 died from it.

As pancreatic cancer is typically caught at a late stage and is highly resistant to current treatment options, 74% of patients die within the first year of diagnoses, the Network points out.