Pancreatic cancer is almost always so advanced at the time of diagnosis that little can be done to treat it, which is why it has a fatality rate of 95 percent. A new study published in Nature finds that contrary to popular belief, however, the original cluster of cancer cells grow very slowly and take an average of about 21 years to become detectable and spread. It takes approximately 11.7 years for a single gene mutation in a pancreatic cell to transform it into a mature pancreatic tumor and another 6.8 years for those cells to become metastatic, or form tumors in other organs of the body.
Researchers analyzed the DNA of pancreatic cancer patients and found that most have mutations in a gene called KRAS, which could be used as a future screening tool to detect pancreatic tumors at a stage early enough to have a chance to remove them before they spread.
“When I first saw this story, I didn’t want to read it because I thought it was just going to be more bad news about this deadly disease, but now I want to believe in the research since pancreatic cancer patients have very low survival rates,” says ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan.
While ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross recognizes the science behind the study, he warns that this is just a starting point, and that future assays for biomarkers need to be established in order to successfully diagnose the cancer. “There’s no point in having this information unless you can analyze blood samples to tell whether or not the cancer is there, no matter how small it is — we need an early warning system.”