(CBS) Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest malignancies there is, killing more than 95 percent who have it within five years of diagnosis.
But an experimental drug "cocktail" can help patients live longer - up to four months longer, according to a French study published in the May 12 issue of the "New England Journal of Medicine." .
Researchers gave 342 pancreatic cancer patients either the cocktail - a combination of four already-approved drugs that doctors call folfirinox - or a commonly used drug called gemcitabine. The doctors found that patients taking folfirinox lived more than 11 months, while those on gemcitabine died within seven months.
That four-month difference might not sound impressive, but given the bleak prognosis for most pancreatic cancer patients, doctors say it's a big deal.
The cocktail has its critics, including Dr. Margaret Tempero, professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco. She told Medscape Medical News that the folfirinox has lots of side effects - not surprising, since it contains four separate drugs.
But other doctors were excited by the findings.
"This is great news for our patients," Dr. Gauri Varadhachary, associate professor of gastrointestinal oncology at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, told USA Today. "I see it becoming the standard of care. I see patients requesting it."
Each year in the U.S., there are more than 43,000 new cases of pancreatic cancer, and almost 37,000 deaths.
The National Cancer Institute has more on pancreatic cancer.