The Ottawa Hospital Explores High-Tech Treatment for Pancreatic Tumours

September 15, 2010

A $53,000-grant from Pancreatic Cancer Canada will enable a team of researchers from The Ottawa Hospital to explore the use of a sophisticated new machine to vaporize tumours with ultra-high radiation doses.

“This is an incredibly exciting opportunity,” Dr. Jason Pantarotto, lead investigator of the groundbreaking study, said in accepting the award today. “We’re desperate for success in finding a localized treatment for pancreatic cancer, and we couldn’t do it without funding from Pancreatic Cancer Canada.”

Key to the project is The Ottawa Hospital’s acquisition of a CyberKnife, which can deliver high doses of radiation with pinpoint accuracy. The California-built machine, only the third to be installed in Canada, uses robotic technology to compensate for even the smallest movements by the patient. Dr. Pantarotto, a radiation oncologist, says this unique feature increases the potential for treating a certain subset of patients with otherwise incurable pancreatic cancer.

Nearly 4,000 Canadians are diagnosed every year with pancreatic cancer, the most lethal form of the disease. There is no prevention, few symptoms, and no early-detection method. By the time most tumours are found, they cannot be removed by surgery. Conventional radiation is difficult to administer because of the organ’s location.

“The pancreas is tucked in at the entry to the liver, where all the important arteries, veins and drainage ducts are located,” Dr. Pantarotto explains, adding that the stomach, liver, kidney and bowel are also nearby. “The idea behind treatment with the CyberKnife is to miss all these innocent bystanders. We think that if we can just administer a high enough dose directly to the tumour, while sparing the delicate surrounding tissue, then we can give those patients new hope.”

The CyberKnife is expected to help treat a variety of other cancers as well. Funds for the instrument are being raised by the Ottawa community, through The Ottawa Hospital Foundation. To date, the community has donated $2.75 million of the $3.5 million needed.
For the first phase of his research project, Dr. Pantarotto plans to recruit 30 patients whose tumours are at a particular stage. The malignancy cannot have spread to other organs. At the same time, however, it has to have grown to a point where surgery is no longer an option.

Betty Aldridge, founder and President of Pancreatic Cancer Canada, said the award recognizes the urgency of exploring innovative approaches to treating this disease, which takes the lives of three-quarters of patients within a year of diagnosis.

“We’re very fortunate that Dr. Pantarotto and his team have the skills, knowledge and dedication to apply this remarkable new instrument in the search for a cure for this devastating disease,” said Ms. Aldridge. Pancreatic Cancer Canada was founded in 2006 to raise research funds and awareness of the disease, and to support victims and their families with information and other resources.

In addition to his role as a radiation oncologist at The Ottawa Hospital, Dr. Pantarotto is also a clinical investigator at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and an assistant professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa.

For further information, please contact:

Betty Aldridge
Pancreatic Cancer Canada
1-888-PANCAN9 (1-888-726-2269)

Jennifer Paterson
Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
(613) 798-5555 x 73325