Feb. 26, 2016 -- Scientists say there are four kinds of pancreatic cancer, a finding that could lead to new treatment opportunities.
An estimated 53,000 people will be diagnosed with the disease in the U.S. in 2016, according to the American Cancer Society. Of those, an estimated 41,700 will die.
By the time people learn they have pancreatic cancer, they often have a poor prognosis, because the disease can get worse -- undetected -- within the pancreas for up to 15 to 20 years. So they may be in the disease’s later stages when they're diagnosed.
The study in the journal Nature examined cancer in 456 people.
The researchers say they hope their findings will lead to more targeted treatments for each type of the disease. One of the scientists involved says using current treatments is "like hitting the disease with a mallet with your eyes closed.”
The four types of pancreatic cancer have been named:
- Pancreatic progenitor
- Aberrantly differentiated endocrine exocrine (ADEX)
The immunogenic kind could potentially respond to types of cancer immunotherapy, in which the immune system is re-engineered to recognize and attack cancer cells.
"The findings of this research are incredibly exciting for anyone affected by pancreatic cancer, as they should mean that in the future the right patients can be given the right treatment at the right time,” says Leanne Reynolds, head of research at the charity Pancreatic Cancer UK. “This is crucial for people with pancreatic cancer, because the disease is difficult to diagnose, is often diagnosed terribly late, and just 4% of people live for 5 years or more after diagnosis.
"If we can predict more accurately which treatment would be most effective for each patient, we can ensure patients have the best chance of living for as long as possible, as well as possible."