28 Oct 2012

Variations found in genetic makeup of pancreatic cancer

6:55 am on 28 October 2012

Australian scientists have found massive variations in the genetic makeup of pancreatic cancer.

Findings published in the journal Nature reveal that of the 100 tumours genetically sequenced there were over 2000 mutated genes.

Dr Chris Scarlett of the University of Newcastle said findings will have significant implications for how pancreatic cancer treatments may change in future.

Pancreatic cancer is highly aggressive and has the highest death rate of the major cancerous diseases.

''Normally what happens when you start chemotherapy for a particular cancer ... is you have a standard (treatment) ... that might work in about 20% (of cases)," said Professor Andrew Biankin.

"If that doesn't work, three months later you'd try something else.

"But unfortunately with pancreatic cancer, you pretty much only get one bite of the cherry.

"If you get it wrong the first time then basically most patients don't live long enough to get the next chance of chemotherapy."

Professor Biankin told the ABC that the findings highlight the benefit of personalised medicine in treating pancreatic cancer, in which the molecular profile of a patient is matched to the best treatment.

"The idea is that you don't want to give drugs to patients that aren't going to respond because it's probably toxic and it's expensive," he said.

"(Instead) you try and match the right drug to the right patient."

Professor Biankin said genetic sequencing of the DNA of tumours and patients will go into a global database known as the International Cancer Genome Consortium.

The ABC reports this will assist researchers in comparing the success and failure of drug treatments and other therapies.