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Revising the timeline for deadly pancreatic cancer
Date:10/27/2010

Pancreatic tumors are one of the most lethal cancers, with fewer than five percent of patients surviving five years after diagnosis. But a new study that peers deeply into the genetics of pancreatic cancer presents a bit of good news: an opportunity for early diagnosis. In contrast to earlier predictions, many pancreatic tumors are, in fact, slow growing, taking nearly 20 years to become lethal after the first genetic perturbations appear.

"There have been two competing theories explaining why pancreatic cancers are so lethal," says Bert Vogelstein, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator who helped lead the new study. "The first is that pancreatic tumors are aggressive right from the get-go and spread to other organs very quickly. The second theory is that pancreatic tumors are, in fact, not more aggressive than other tumors, but that symptoms appear so late in the process that patients have little chance of surviving. We were surprised and pleased to discover that this second theory is correct, at least for a major fraction of tumors. It means that there is a window of opportunity for early detection of pancreatic cancer."

The new work is published in the October 28, 2010, issue of the journal Nature. Christine Iacobuzio-Donahue, a pathologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, is the senior author of the paper.

Working with Iacobuzio-Donahue, Vogelstein obtained samples of primary pancreatic tumors from seven autopsied patients, as well as metastatic lesions from their lungs, liver, and other organs. Their team sequenced the DNA of every gene in each metastatic tumor as well as in the primary tumor. These genetic read-outs provided data to compare the genetic mutations found in each patient's metastatic lesions with the mutations found in the primary tumor.

The investigators found that each metastatic lesion contained, on average across all patients, 61 cancer-related genetic mutations. Further
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Contact: Jim Keeley
keeleyj@hhmi.org
301-215-8858
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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