Pancreatic Cancer Slow Growing, Preventable
Johns Hopkins researchers have discovered pancreatic cancer grows very slowly. Early detection could prevent the disease from spreading, but is extremely hard to find in its early stages.
Patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are usually in advanced stages say the researchers, who have now discovered there is a window of opportunity to intervene and stop the disease from metastasizing to other organs.
Christine Iacobuzio-Donahue, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of pathology and oncology at Hopkins’ Sol Goldman Pancreatic Cancer Research Center explains most patients are diagnosed late, but “there is potentially a very broad window for screening”, something that the researchers say is a surprise.
Pancreatic Cancer is Hard to Detect Early
Current screening methods for pancreatic cancer fail to pick up tumors that might take decades to grow. The researchers suggest lives could be saved by screening for cancer of the pancreas using the same types of methods used for breast and colon cancer screening.
The researchers found that after a pancreatic cancer cell develops it takes almost 7 years to progress to the size of a plum with the potential of at least one cell to spread to other organs. When the disease metastasizes most patients die within 2.5 years.
The findings that pancreatic cancer is grows very slowly contradicts what was previously known about the disease. Lack of symptoms makes it impossible to detect pancreatic cancer when it is most treatable.
It takes at least a decade for a mutated pancreatic cell to turn into cancer. Once that happens, it takes another 7 years before the disease would start to spread, using conservative estimates.
Iacobuzio-Donahue suggests the possibility of using a tiny camera attached to a thin, long tube to perform endoscopy that could detect pancreatic cancer sooner. Just like colonoscopy screening that helps prevent cancer and recommended beginning at age 50, the Hopkins researchers hope to develop a test to find the disease in its early stages
The slow growth of pancreatic cancer was discovered by the scientists through gene sequencing of cancer cells among patients who died; analyzed within 6 hours of death. They discovered gene mutations were present years before the cancer spread.
The findings that pancreatic cancer grows slowly can save lives. The National Cancer Institute estimates 36,800 people will die the disease this year. The five year survival rate when the disease spreads to other organs is a mere 1.9 percent. Currenty, "pretty much everybody" is diagnosed too late, according to Dr. Iacobuzio-Donahue.