Three clinical trials underway in New Zealand aim to change the fates of pancreatic cancer patients.

More than 700 New Zealanders are diagnosed and more than 600 die from pancreatic cancer each year. Speaking to 1News, patient Nyree Smith says she was given only nine months to live when diagnosed.

“I didn’t even know where the pancreas was. There were no groups, there was no support [and] I got told I had this death sentence.”

Smith is bucking the odds and still fighting her cancer six years later. Even though she’s not eligible to be part of the clinical trials, she is raising money to fund them.

Only 12% of pancreatic cancer patients survive more than five years and late diagnosis plays a crucial role in this statistic.

There is no screening exam to detect the disease in early stages and mild symptoms such as lower back pain and nausea often go unnoticed.

The result is another grim statistic. 80% to 95% of patients are already in stage three or four when diagnosed and that is too late for surgery.

One of the clinical trials Smith is helping to fund aims to change these numbers and prevent the cancer from appearing in the first place.

Lead doctor on the project Marius Van Rijnsoever says 25% of pancreas cysts have a chance of developing into cancer in the future.

The trial aims to inject chemotherapy into the cyst to try and stop its development.

“This is the first study that I know of in Australia and New Zealand that is looking at preventing pancreatic cancers.”

Two other trials looking at different stages of the disease have also been given the green light.

One focuses on a new chemotherapy treatment for patients with late-stage pancreatic cancer and the other investigates slowing tumour growth for patients who have the potential for curative surgery.

The Gut Cancer Foundation is funding the trials with the help of people like Nyree.

Foundation executive officer, Liam Willis, says they have committed to a quarter of a million dollars to this work.

“This is a group of patients who have the lowest five-year survival rate of any major cancer patients anywhere in the world. We desperately need to find new ways to treat, diagnose and prevent these cancers.”

Smith’s cancer continues to grow requiring weekly chemotherapy treatment to keep it at bay.

“It has given me a mission, it has given me a reason, if I can do something to help someone, if I can save one life, then having pancreatic cancer has been worth it.