Pancreatic Cancer: a Family Matter?

Pancreatic cancer in families may be linked to ATM gene mutation

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Any research advancement in understanding more about the difficult-to-treat cancer of the pancreas is good news. Researchers are uncovering some interesting facets of this disease, a discovery that could lead to new screening methods.

Changes or mutations in the ATM gene may escalate the risk of inheriting pancreatic cancer. This is especially true when the disease shows up in several family members, according to a new study.

"If you have a family history of cancer, you may consider genetic testing."

One in 10 patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer have several relatives who have also had the disease.

Lead author, Alison Klein, Ph.D., associate professor of oncology at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, says researchers have believed that  "clustering" of pancreatic cancer had a genetic component, but the cause of this phenomenon has never been established.

Klein, who is also director of the National Familial Pancreas Tumor Registry, and colleagues used advanced genomic sequencing technology to identified mutations in the ATM in two family members who had pancreatic cancer.

These findings were then analyzed in a large number of patients. Damaged ATM genes were seen in four of 166 people who had pancreatic cancer. These genetic mutations were not found in 190 spouses who served as the control group.

So testing for this genetic defect may be a way to detect pancreatic cancer, which currently has no screening tests.

This research was published OnlineFirst in the December 29, 2011 issue of Cancer Discovery, the newest journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

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Review Date: 
December 30, 2011
Last Updated:
January 2, 2012