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Dr. Elizabeth M. Jaffee Answers Questions on Pancreatic Cancer and Immunotherapy from the CRI Virtual Immunotherapy Patient Summit

January 15, 2021

At the CRI Virtual Immunotherapy Patient Summit in December, patients and caregivers were eager to further their understanding of immunotherapy for pancreatic cancer.

Elizabeth M. Jaffee, M.D., deputy director of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center and the associate director of the Bloomberg~Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, led the Pancreatic Cancer and Immunotherapy Breakout Session.

We followed up with Dr. Jaffee after the event to discuss several more questions from attendees.

I’m interested in clinical outcomes for combination immunotherapy for pancreatic cancer. Are there any promising combination trials?

Dr. Jaffee: There are a number of clinical trials showing patients who failed chemotherapy can have durable responses with combination immunotherapy. We are at about an 8-10% rate. There are a number of clinical trials working to improve on this. There are also studies that are early showing better rates in surgically treated patients and also when immunotherapy is given with chemotherapy as first treatment for metastatic disease. But these are early as well and we need to build on these hopeful early results.

My husband was recently diagnosed with stage 2/3 pancreatic cancer. When is a good time to look into immunotherapy clinical trials?

Dr. Jaffee: There are trials combining immunotherapy with standard therapies including surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. There are fewer trials for patients who have completed all therapies, but there are one or two. We at Hopkins have one. For an active list, you can try pancan.org or lustgarten.org. 

You can also use CRI’s Clinical Trial Finder to search for up-to-date immunotherapy clinical trials near you and schedule a time to speak with a CRI Clinical Trial Navigator.

At what point would you recommend genetic testing or genomic sequencing?

Dr. Jaffee: We recommend both at the time of diagnosis. Over the past few years, we have used genetic testing and genomic sequencing to identify patients who may benefit from immunotherapy, PARP inhibitors, and a few other new therapies.

I am on year five of my breast cancer journey. The genetic counselor just told me I have an increased chance of getting pancreatic cancer because of the BRCA mutation. One person from each side of my family have passed on from pancreatic cancer. How can I screen myself for pancreatic cancer?

Dr. Jaffee: There are screening programs for BRCA in pancreatic and breast cancer around the country. I recommend you contact one close to you. Johns Hopkins, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and Mayo Clinic all definitely do.

Do you think that immunotherapy will one day become broadly available as a first-line treatment for all types of cancer? 

Dr. Jaffee: It’s too early to say. We are just at the beginning of our learning curve on how to activate the immune system against most cancers. I do believe we will have ways to vaccinate against many cancers, and they may include safer immunotherapy agents that are currently being developed to treat cancer. 

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*Immunotherapy results may vary from patient to patient.

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