Gene Discovery Sheds Light on Pancreatic Cancer

Specific sequence of DNA improves survival by 50%, researchers say

MONDAY, March 12, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. researchers have identified the gene sequence that causes a rare form of deadly pancreatic cancer.

Most cases of ductal pancreatic cancer are fatal, regardless of the stage of cancer when a patient is diagnosed. However, about 5 percent of patients develop a form of ductal pancreatic cancer associated with lesions that can be detected early. This form -- called cystic ductal pancreatic cancer -- is less aggressive and has a 50 percent long-term survival rate, according to background information in a news release.

In research with mice, scientists at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle discovered that a specific sequence of otherwise common genetic mutations causes cystic ductal pancreatic cancer.

Their study is published in the March 12 issue of Cancer Cell.

"Although at their end stage the two different routes to ductal pancreatic cancer can look very much the same under the microscope, involve the same constellation of genetic events, and culminate in invasive and metastatic disease that can ultimately kill patients, one route is 100 percent fatal while the other is 50 percent fatal," study leader Dr. Sunil Hingorani, an assistant member of Hutchinson's Clinical Research and Public Health Sciences division, noted in a prepared statement.

"Until now, we didn't understand why. What these studies suggest is that it's not just the total complement of mutations that determines the behavior of these cancers but also the sequence in which the mutations arise," Hingorani said.

"With accurate animal models of both forms of pancreatic ductal cancers now in hand, it should be possible to unravel the detailed mechanisms behind their distinct behavior and hopefully identify points of vulnerability in the more fatal form to improve survival," Hingorani noted.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about pancreatic cancer.

SOURCE: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, news release, March 12, 2007
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