A possible vaccine treatment for pancreatic cancer is undergoing clinical study in the United Kingdom.

Researchers at the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre say the vaccine would be used following surgery for pancreatic cancer, along with other traditional treatments such as chemotherapy. The aggressive cancer requires multiple waves of differing treatments, given its ability to quickly metastasize and reform secondary tumors following surgical intervention. The immune system’s inability to recognize these secondary tumors makes the disease so pernicious, says Daniel Palmer, the chair of medical oncology and study leader.

“The vaccine will work to manipulate the body’s immune system to recognise microscopic cancer cells, meaning a patient is able to fight any remaining cells before the cancer forms again in any other parts of the body,” he said.

The Centre treats more than 28,000 pancreatic cancer patients every year, with the cancer responsible for 9,000 annual deaths throughout the country. Fewer than four percent of patients survive five or more years after receiving a diagnosis, and they come just as quickly as they leave. Every year, 9,000 British residents receive diagnosis for pancreatic cancer, the ninth most common there. Symptoms during advanced stages include sudden weight loss, jaundice, upper abdominal pain, and others that point to a multitude of other diseases and conditions — delaying some diagnoses.

Only one in five pancreatic cancer patients benefit from surgery, with the rest dependent on chemotherapy and radiotherapy in many cases. With this new treatment, the vaccine is delivered in conjunction mostly with chemotherapy. Fatigue and nausea may be common side effects of the vaccine.

Sixty-four-year-old Allan Hellier, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in October, told The Daily Mail he was thrilled to have been recruited for the study. “‘I see it as a bit of an insurance policy to be honest,” he said. “I want to give myself the best quality of life with my wife Angela and our children and grandchildren.”

Maggie Banks, chief executive officer of the UK’s Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund, said she looked forward to the study’s conclusion, calling immunotherapy “an exciting area of research in the field.”

The “cancer vaccine” follows regulatory approval of a treatment for prostate cancer, as scientists examine whether immunotherapy may help to treat lung cancer, too.