Pancreatic Cancer Research

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Pancreatic Cancer Research

Pancreatic cancer develops in the pancreas, an organ which lies behind the lower stomach, and is involved in digestion. The pancreas secretes digestive enzymes as well as insulin, which helps regulate blood sugar metabolism.

This type of cancer is a leading cause of cancer deaths (fourth for both men and women), because it is rarely diagnosed early, and because the cancer often spreads quickly. Current treatments focus on surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. However, only surgery provides a chance at a cure, and for most patients, diagnosis is made too late for surgery to be a viable treatment option.

Pancreatic Cancer Prevention and Screening

Currently, it is considered necessary to screen those who are considered to be at high risk of developing pancreatic cancer. However, only 10% of people who develop pancreatic cancer have a family history of the disease, and this means that determining who is “high risk” is difficult.

In terms of prevention, pancreatic cancer research focuses on determining the nature of non-hereditary risk factors. A further focus is on developing non-invasive, cost-effective screening methods.

Advances in Pancreatic Cancer Treatment

In general, pancreatic cancer is an extremely challenging disease to treat. For more than ten years, the standard chemotherapy treatment for pancreatic cancer has been a drug called Gemcitabine, either alone or in combination with another chemotherapy drug. However, while Gemcitabine typically does not produce significant benefits for either advanced or metastatic pancreatic cancer, there are simply no options for a more effective mode of treatment.

Improved knowledge of cellular signaling pathways, mechanisms of tumor formation and growth, and cancer “escape” mechanisms has allowed for the development of new cancer drugs which may prove effective in the treatment of pancreatic cancer. Possible new drug targets and treatments include the following:

  • Mutations of proteins in the ras family are known to be involved in up to 30% of all cancers, and are present in almost all pancreatic cancers. Suppression of ras proteins can help reduce malignant cell survival rates and reduce the ability of cells to form malignancies.
  • Inhibition of cellular processes and pathways which provide cancer cells with growth-stimulating chemical signals.
  • Inhibition of proteins such as the Src family of kinases, which provide tumor cells with resistance to chemotherapy. Inhibiting these proteins could help improve the sensitivity of cancer cells to existing drugs as well as novel ones.

References and Further Reading

Klapman, J., Malafa, M. Early Detection of Pancreatic Cancer: Why, Who, and How to Screen. Cancer Control: Journal of the Moffitt Cancer Center. 2008;15(4):280-287.

Vulfovich, M., Rocha-Lima, C. Novel Advances in Pancreatic Cancer Treatment. Expert Review of Anticancer Therapy2008;8 (6):993-1002.

The Mayo Clinic on Pancreatic Cancer