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Pancreatic Cancer Health Center

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Molecules May Show Pancreatic Cancer

Scientists Find Molecular Pattern That May Be a Marker of Pancreatic Cancer
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 1, 2007 -- Pancreatic cancer may leave telltale signs in gene-related molecules called microRNAs.

That news comes from scientists including Mark Bloomston, MD, assistant professor of surgery at Ohio State University's James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute.

In the U.S., pancreatic cancer is the No. 4 cause of cancer-related deaths in men and the No. 5 cause of cancer-related deaths in women, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Pancreatic cancer kills nearly 33,000 people per year in the U.S., note Bloomston and colleagues.

Currently, there are no routine medical tests that screen for pancreatic cancer. Symptoms often don't appear in the early stages of pancreatic cancer. As a result, many cases are diagnosed at advanced stages.

The research may some day be helpful in the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. It may also some day be useful in determining the prognosis of patients.

Pancreatic Cancer Study

Bloomston's team studied pancreatic tissue from 65 people with pancreatic cancer and 42 people with chronic inflammation of the pancreas (chronic pancreatitis).

Bloomston's team identified 15 microRNAs that were more common in the pancreatic cancer patients than in participants with chronic pancreatitis. Eight other microRNAs were less common in the pancreatic cancer patients than in the people with chronic pancreatitis.

In addition, a subgroup of six microRNAs were linked to increased pancreatic cancer survival. Those microRNAs distinguished long-term survivors from those dying within two years, write the researchers.

The role that microRNAs play in pancreatic cancer isn't clear. It's not known if they are a cause or consequence of pancreatic cancer.

"These [microRNAs] have not been studied much, so we don't know how important they will ultimately be," Bloomston says in an Ohio State University news release.

The findings, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, need to be checked in other groups, Bloomston's team notes.

"Our findings are really just a starting point," Bloomston says. "We and others need to validate the role of these molecules in pancreatic cancer and to study what they do."

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