Breakthrough in pancreatic cancer research

Australian researchers have discovered the genetic landscape of a rare type of pancreatic cancer that they hope will lead to better diagnosis and treatment.

An Australian-led team of international researchers has made a breakthrough in the understanding of a rare and unpredictable form of pancreatic cancer.

It is the type of cancer that killed Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

Using whole genome sequency, researchers found as many as one in five patients with pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (PanNETs) had a clear genetic predisposition for their cancers, even though they had no family history of the disease.

This means that even without a family history of cancer, a person could still potentially carry a faulty gene that may increase their risk of developing this tumour.

The genetic drivers to PanNETs also bared "striking" similarities to mutations normally associated with colon and breast cancers - meaning for some patients, their cancer might be treatable with existing drugs or those in development.

Uncovering the "genomic landscape'" of this type of cancer is considered a big step forward.

"The genetic variants we've identified may help to predict how aggressive each patient's tumour is and what sort of treatment they're likely to benefit from," said study co-leader Dr Nicola Waddell from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute.

"In the future, patients at risk of this rare pancreatic cancer could be identifiable through genetic screening," she said.

PanNETs account for about two per cent of the 3000 cases of pancreatic cancer diagnosed in Australia each year.

Pancreatic cancer has a low survival rate as it is most often diagnosed at an advanced stage.

Amber Johns of the APGI at the Garvan Institute said although PanNET patients often had a better prognosis than those with more common pancreatic cancers, this group of tumours was highly unpredictable.

"Doctors currently face the challenge of being unable to tell apart patients who would benefit from early aggressive therapy from those who might be spared harsh treatment for less invasive cancers," Ms Johns said.

The findings, published on Thursday in the journal Nature, were the result of work by esearchers at the University of Melbourne, Garvan Institute of Medical Research, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, The University of Queensland and the Children's Medical Research Institute, as well as European and US teams.

Source AAP

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