A new study may be able to help explain why pancreatic cancer is so deadly.
Pancreatic cancer is a disease with a poor survival rate due to the difficulty doctors have of spotting it in the early stages.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that there were 46,420 new cases of pancreatic cancer in the U.S. in 2014 and 39,590 deaths from the disease. Pancreatic cancer is 2.8% of all new cancer cases among Americans and 6.8% of cancer deaths.
Unfortunately, even when it is diagnosed early, it kills more than a third of patients.
Researchers know that patients with the earliest stages of pancreatic cancer have a survival rate of only 30%. This statistic suggests that even in the early stages, there are already cells that have spread to distance parts of the body.
A gene called ATDC, also known as TRIM29, plays an important role in helping pre-invasive pancreatic tumors progress to a metastatic state. While in a metastatic state, cancer cells travel to other parts of the body.
ATDC was already known to be involved in nearly 90% of pancreatic cancer and promotes growth and spread of tumors.
This new study used mice to develop pancreatic cancer similar to that which arises in humans. They also studied samples of pancreatic cancer tissue and pre-invasive pancreatic lesions.
They found ATDC was prevalent in a group of pre-invasive cells and also helped develop pancreatic cancer stem cells.
The study also discovered that ATDC appears to be involved in helping cancer cells change state. This is a process called “epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition” or EMT, which results in cells being more loosely associated which allowed them to migrate more easily.
The authors of the study were able to conclude that their findings are evidence of a new molecular pathway for promoting EMT in the development of pancreatic cancer.