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Discovery Links Genes to Pancreatic Cancer
Date:1/25/2010

Researchers must still determine how to use the data to reduce risk,,

MONDAY, Jan. 25 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers have identified four regions of the human genome that predict a heightened risk of pancreatic cancer as a result of what they describe as the biggest-ever sweep of the genome for genes related to the disease.

Though some of the locations had been linked to other cancers, the discovery of others apparently surprised the researchers.

"This lets us go places we had never thought of before," said senior study author Dr. Stephen Chanock, chief of the laboratory of translational genomics at the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

However, he cautioned that though the regions "are conclusively associated with the risk of developing pancreatic cancer, it doesn't mean if you have a variation in that region you're going to get pancreatic cancer."

It simply means risk is increased, and, more than likely, environmental factors would have to come into play to complete the picture, he explained.

The findings were reported online Jan. 24 in Nature Genetics.

Pancreatic cancer has an extremely grim prognosis, with only 5 percent of people still alive five years after detection.

"Pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed at a very late stage, and that's partly due to anatomical location," Chanock said. "The disease can fester and grow for extended periods of time before it impinges on a vital structure that produces symptoms, and we have not developed sufficiently good ways to identify people at risk with tests."

Smoking, a history of diabetes and weight problems all can contribute to risk, as can a family history of the disease, although family clusters account for less than 5 percent to 10 percent of all pancreatic cancers, he added.

But only recently have scientists begun to unravel the myriad genetic factors that might trigger the disease.

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