Of all the types of cancer that afflict human beings, perhaps the deadliest is pancreatic cancer. Partly because the disease is generally diagnosed in later stages and partly because therapies have proven to be ineffective, the five year survival rate for this form of the disease is just seven percent. A diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is a virtual death sentence. However, some recent research at the University of Glasgow points the way for the development of targeted therapies that could extend the lifespans of patients.

The research suggests that four types of pancreatic cancer exists, squamous, pancreatic progenitor, immunogenic, and aberrantly differentiated endocrine exocrine, or ADEX.

Each type of cancer has its particular weakness which can be attacked by the right kind of medication.

The most exciting development in the treatment of cancer has been immunotherapy, which uses the body’s immune system to attack tumors. The idea is that the immune system can be trained to attack cancer cells much like it would attack an infectious disease. The approach has garnered promising results in the types of the disease for which it has been approved. More immunotherapy drugs are in the pipeline.

Every year, about 49,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the United States. Between 40,000 to 41,000 people die of the disease in the United States every year. Pancreatic cancer represents three percent of all cancers in the United States and seven percent of cancer deaths.

A number of biotech companies are working on immunotherapy drugs, going through the long, arduous process of human trials. Now that a better understanding exists about the nature of pancreatic cancer, its types and its weaknesses, these kinds of therapies can be tailored to attack this type of cancer. To be sure, because of the lengthy approval process, effective treatments for the disease are about five to ten years away from showing up in a clinical setting. But the day when people stricken with the disease can expect to live a bit longer than a few months is on the horizon.