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Innovative research could mean earlier pancreatic cancer diagnoses

Posted by: Comms 13 October 2016

An innovative piece of pancreatic cancer research has found that tumours grow far more quickly than previously thought, providing vital insight into how the disease develops, which could in turn lead to people being diagnosed earlier and to better treatments being developed. The research by scientists in Canada, A renewed model of pancreatic cancer evolution based on genomic rearrangement patterns, was published online in Nature.

It was previously thought that pancreatic cancer develops gradually over many years. However, because 80 per cent of people are diagnosed when the disease is at an advanced stage, Principal Investigator Dr Faiyaz Notta and his team decided to take a deeper look, as the theory and reality didn’t seem to match up.

Using state of the art genome sequencing technology, the researchers investigated the step by step genetic changes in 100 pancreatic cancer tumours. In around two thirds of those cases, they discovered that over time there were complex rearrangements in the tumour DNA, which would suggest that the tumours had in fact grown rapidly. They also discovered that those changes had happened in bursts, rather than gradually. These ‘bursts’ in turn suggest that there are stages of tumour growth which, if they were further understood, could be identified and then used to help to diagnose people with the disease earlier.

This new knowledge challenges the traditional view of pancreatic cancer developing gradually over time and provides vital insight into the processes that create these aggressive tumours.

Leanne Reynolds, Head of Research at Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “This exciting research could mean that in the future, people could be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer earlier, and that the right patients get the right treatment at the right time. This could make an enormous impact on patients and their families, as currently 80 per cent of people are diagnosed when the disease is advanced, and there are very few treatment options.

“With just five per cent of people with pancreatic cancer living for five years or more after diagnosis, it is imperative that we now act on these results. We must seek to further understand how and why tumours are developing more quickly than we thought, because this could lead to more people being diagnosed earlier, and better treatments for patients at the different stages of tumour development.

“For too long, pancreatic cancer research has been sidelined – in the last decade, it has received just one per cent of the UK cancer research budget. It is vital that this changes if we are to achieve the breakthroughs we so desperately need to ultimately give people with pancreatic cancer the chance of living for longer."