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01 March 2016 08:48
Researchers say pancreatic cancer is four separate diseases
Pancreatic cancer is actually four separate diseases with different survival rates and underlying genetic causes, new research shows.
Scientists are hoping their findings will help lead to an improvement in the way patients are diagnosed and treated.
And they say the research should help trigger investigations into new treatments for the separate strains of pancreatic cancer.
Targeted treatment hopes
Having looked at more than 450 tumours the researchers at the University of Glasgow say the disease can be classified into four separate sub-types - pancreatic progenitor, squamous, ADEX and immunogenic.
The research, published in the Nature journal, has been led by Professor Sean Grimmond. He says knowing which sub-type of pancreatic cancer a patient has will enable doctors to target treatments more effectively and provide people with a better prognosis.
Professor Grimmond adds that certain drugs - either already available or in development - could be used to target certain sub-types of pancreatic cancer.
Some sub-types, he says, are linked with mutations linked to leukaemia or colon cancer - diseases that patients travelling abroad can cover themselves for with a cancer travel insurance policy - that are being treated with experimental drugs.
The findings have been described as "incredibly exciting" by Pancreatic Cancer UK. Leanne Reynolds, the charity's head of research, says it is hoped they will pave the way for patients being given the right treatment and the correct time in the future.
Each year in Britain some 8,800 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. But the disease has a low survival rate with only one in five adults still alive over a year after their diagnosis. Less than one in 20, meanwhile, survive for more than five years and just 1% are still alive 10 years after being diagnosed.
One of the new study's authors, Dr Peter Bailey, says although doctors have a number of chemotherapy options from which to choose when treating patients with pancreatic cancer the standard of care has altered little over the last 20 years.
In general, he adds, treatment is not generally very selective and has for doctors, until now, been akin to hitting the disease with a hammer with their eyes shut.
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