Study Sheds Light on Factors That May Contribute to Pancreatic Cancer

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New research that provides a better understanding of pancreatic cancer may help identify individuals at increased risk. The findings were recently published early online in Cancer.1

Pancreatic cancer is usually detected at a very late stage and has a 5-year survival rate of less than 5%. Strategies that might help identify which individuals have an increased risk of developing the disease are needed. Some cases seem to run in families, but the genes that are responsible for such inherited predisposition remain largely unknown.

To get a better understanding of the disease, corresponding author Andrew Biankin, MBBS, PhD, of the University of Glasgow, in Scotland, and his colleagues studied 766 patients who had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Patients were thought to have an inherited predisposition if they had one or more affected first-degree relatives. Otherwise, their cancer was considered sporadic.

Nearly 9% of patients who were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer had at least one parent or sibling who was also diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. When Dr. Biankin and his team examined the pancreatic tissue adjacent to the cancer in all study participants, they found more precancerous tissue in those whose first-degree relatives also had pancreatic cancer. They also found that members of these families appeared to be at higher risk of developing other cancers including melanoma and endometrial cancer. Importantly, active smoking was associated with a significantly younger age at diagnosis in all patients.

“These findings are important because they suggest that the genes we inherit from our parents likely play a significant role in our lifetime risk of developing pancreatic cancer,” said Dr. Biankin. “Secondly, they emphasize that when assessing someone’s individual risk of developing pancreatic cancer, it may be important to assess not just family history of pancreatic cancer but other malignancies too. Finally, our data emphasize the importance of smoking abstinence.” ■

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1. Humphris JL, et al, and the Australian Pancreatic Cancer Genome Initiative: Clinical and pathologic features of familial pancreatic cancer. Cancer. October 14, 2014 (early release online).





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