Pancreatic Cancer Progression to Lethal Stage Slower than Previously Believed


Recent research from Johns Hopkins University published in the October 28 issue of Nature concluded that pancreatic cancer develops and spreads much more slowly than previously believed. The researcher continued ” For the first time, we have a quantifiable estimate of the development of pancreatic cancer, and when it would be best to intervene.”

It takes about 7 years following the appearance of the first cancer cell for the cells to multiply and turn into a cancerous tumor the size of a plum. At that time at least one cell has the potential to spread to other organs nad the patient dies about 2 1/2 years later.

Tissue sample of 7 patients who had died of metastatic cancer originating in the pancreas were taken within 6 hours of death and DNA was extracted. In all patients metastatic deposits were found in two or more sites that were often the lungs, liver and peritoneum. From the data types of mutations were identified and classified including both those before and after the cancer spread. They found both types of mutations in the primary site years before the metastases was identified clinically.

Using mathematical models they were able to estimate the following progression: an average of 11.7 years before the first cancer cell developed into a high grade pancreatic lesion; then an average of 6.8 years as it grew to the point where one cell could spread, and then, an average of 2.7 years until the patient died. with this information the goal is to develop a pancreatic cancer screening method that would allow early interventions. More information is available at: Shinichi Yachida, Sian Jones et al ((2010) Distant metastasis occurs late during the genetic evolution of pancreatic cancer. Nature 467 (7319) 1114 or

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