End Caps and Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer predicted by shortened telomeres

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Trying to predict who’s at risk for cancer is a key research goal. Scientists look at all sorts of things to do this. Science is making progress in predicting pancreatic cancer risk.

Researchers found a blood marker that appears to be linked to cancer of the pancreas. This is a particularly nasty cancer, so this is good news.

Shortened blood cell telomeres have already been linked to other kinds of cancer and diseases of aging. So telomere length can’t be a stand-alone marker for pancreatic cancer, the researchers said.

"Ask your oncologist about new tests."

Lisa A. Boardman, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, led the study. She and her colleagues looked at the length of telomeres, which are the end caps of chromosomes. Shorter telomeres are associated with an increased risk of pancreatic – and other – cancers.

"This suggests a new avenue to identify those with pancreatic cancer or those at risk of developing the cancer in the future,'' said senior author, Halcyon Skinner, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of population health sciences at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

Researchers collected blood samples from 499 pancreatic cancer patients and 963 healthy individuals who did not have cancer.

The scientists zeroed in on the length of telomeres found in white blood cells. They found people who had shorter telomeres in these cells were more likely to have pancreatic cancer.

As we age, telomeres naturally shorten. And people who are the same age can have very different telomere lengths

"We know that people with many factors that are classically unhealthy also tend to have shorter telomeres. Those who have had stressful lives, exposed to chronic inflammation, have poor glucose control or smoked cigarettes tend to have shorter telomeres, and that can set the stage for genetic damage,'' Dr. Skinner said in a press release.

Dr. Boardman says additional research is needed to see if telomere length can be combined with other pancreatic cancer markers to develop a clinical test.

An estimated 43,920 adults will have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2012, and 37,390 individuals will die from the disease.

Findings from this study were published in the October issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

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Review Date: 
December 6, 2012
Last Updated:
February 21, 2013