From Our 2010 Archives

New Genetic Links for Pancreatic Cancer

Three Newly Identified Genetic Variants May Help Explain Pancreatic Cancer Risk

By Jennifer Warner
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 25, 2010 -- At least three newly discovered genetic variants may contribute to pancreatic cancer risk, according to a new study.

Researchers say it's the largest study to date to identify potential genetic risk factors for the mysterious disease.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest cancers, with 200,000 new cases diagnosed each year worldwide, and nearly that many deaths caused by the disease each year. Statistics show that less than 5% of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are alive more than five years after diagnosis.

Risk factors for pancreatic cancers include diabetes, obesity, smoking, and a family history of pancreatic cancer.

Although genetics appears to play a major role in pancreatic cancer risk, researchers say only a small percentage of hereditary pancreatic cancer cases can be explained by currently known genes associated with the disease.

To identify more genes potentially associated with pancreatic cancer, researchers conducted a genome-wide scan in 3,851 people with the disease and a comparison group of 3,934 healthy individuals.

The results, published in Nature Genetics, showed genetic variants on three locations in different chromosomes were associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer.

The variants on one of these chromosomes is located near the CLPTM1L and TERT genes, both of which have been previously linked to other cancers, including brain tumors, lung cancer, and melanoma.

Researchers say the findings merit further follow-up studies to confirm the role of these genetic variants in family-related pancreatic cancer.

"These results, in turn, should help to inform new preventive, diagnostic, and/or therapeutic approaches designed to lessen the burden of this highly fatal disease," write researcher Gloria Petersen, of the department of health sciences research at the college of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and colleagues.

SOURCES: Petersen, G. Nature Genetics, Jan. 24, 2010, advance online publication.

News release, Nature Journals.

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