One Cancer That’s Actually Many Cancers

Pancreatic cancer genetic mutations and biomarkers revealed

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

(RxWiki News) Scientists are increasingly realizing that a specific type of cancer is actually many different diseases. A new study has confirmed this is certainly the case with pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancers can involve up to thousands of different genetic mutations.

This study also identified new biomarkers for pancreatic cancer that can be used to evaluate treatment options and influence a patient’s outlook.

"Reduce your intake of processed meats."

An international team of more than 100 researchers was led by Professor Sean Grimmond from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) at The University of Queensland, and Professor Andrew Biankin from The Kinghorn Cancer Centre at Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research/St. Vincent’s Hospital.

The study sequenced the genomes of 100 pancreatic tumors and compared them to genes found in normal tissue. The study objective was to identify what genetic changes lead to pancreatic cancer.

“We found over 2,000 mutated genes in total, ranging from the KRAS gene, which was mutated in about 90 percent of samples, to hundreds of gene mutations that were only present in 1 or 2 percent of tumors,” Professor Grimmond said in a press release.

“So while tumors may look very similar under the microscope, genetic analysis reveals as many variations in each tumor as there are patients.”

What's known as the axon guidance pathway is often damaged in pancreatic cancer patients and tends to indicate a poorer outcome for patients.

What this all means, according to Professor Grimmond, “This demonstrates that so-called ‘pancreatic cancer’ is not one disease, but many, and suggests that people who seemingly have the same cancer might need to be treated quite differently.”

“First we must take the time to develop the necessary genetic knowledge and implement health systems to translate that knowledge effectively,” he said.

Findings from this study were published October 24 in the journal Nature.

Researchers from Baylor College of Medicine and The Methodist Hospital Research Institute in Texas, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, the University of California San Francisco, the University of Verona, the Cambridge Research Institute and the Sanger Centre in the UK collaborated in this international study.

This research was funded  by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia; Commonwealth Department of Innovation, Industry, Science, Research and Tertiary Education; Australian Cancer Research Foundation; Queensland Government; The University of Queensland; Cancer Council NSW; Cancer Institute NSW; Avner Nahmani Pancreatic Cancer Research Foundation; R.T. Hall Trust; Petre Foundation; Jane Hemstritch; Gastroenterological Society of Australia; American Association for Cancer Research Landon Foundation; Royal Australasian College of Surgeons; and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians; Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 29, 2012
Last Updated:
October 31, 2012