A Closer Look at a Killer

Researchers unveil molecular view of rare form of pancreatic cancer

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

(RxWiki News) New research from Johns Hopkins University suggests why some people with a rare pancreatic cancer are able to live for a decade or longer from diagnosis.

The scientists identified new genes that appear to form a relatively less harmful form of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor when mutated a particular way, making way for "the new molecular view of cancer," said Nickolas Papadopoulos, one of the lead researchers.

Neuroendocrine tumors are cancers of the interface between the endocrine (hormonal) system and the nervous system.

Papadopoulos said the genetic makeup of the cancer determines what healthcare management should look like for one of the deadliest forms of cancer.

Most pancreatic cancers result in a type of tumor called adenocarcinoma, but neuroendocrine tumors account for about 5 percent of pancreatic cancer cases. These tumors are more easily treated and less aggressive. About 40 percent of patients live for more than 10 years from diagnosis.

Johns Hopkins researchers sequenced all the DNA taken from tumors of 68 patients with pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors. They found those with tumors that had mutations in three genes (MEN-1, DAXX and ATRX) lived at least 10 years after diagnosis. More than 60 percent of patients without these mutations lived less than 5 years.

Pancreatic cancer kills approximately 34,000 of the 37,000 people diagnosed each year, according to the American Cancer Society.

Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs was diagnosed with a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor in 2004. Since then he has received a liver transplant (suggesting the cancer spread) and recently took a medical leave of absence earlier this month.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 23, 2011
Last Updated:
January 24, 2011