Gene signature may help predict survival of pancreatic cancer patients

Molecular differences in metastatic pancreatic cancer may help identify prognosis for patients, according to a study published in the Public Library of Science Medicine (2010 Jul 13;7(7):e1000307).

During the study, conducted at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, a team of scientists sought to develop a way to help identify patients who have a more aggressive form of pancreatic cancer. The team compared and evaluated 30 tumor samples from patients with early- and late-stage disease and identified a six-gene signature associated with late-stage disease.

The scientists reported that when they tested the prognostic value of the six-gene signature on a group of 67 patients with localized pancreatic cancer, they confirmed the validity of the signature to identify patients with high-risk, aggressive disease.

“In our study we showed our six-gene signature to be superior to current methods used to stage disease and estimate prognosis,” said Jen Jen Yeh, MD, assistant professor of surgery and pharmacology at the UNC School of Medicine and the study's senior author. “If we can better stage patients' disease, we can better determine those who may benefit most from chemotherapy before surgery or from surgery alone. As more therapies become available, this signature may be used to tailor treatment options.”

According to background information provided by the authors, pancreatic cancer is often not diagnosed until it is advanced because the most common tumor type rarely causes early noticeable symptoms. At present, treatment decisions and clinical prognosis are based on tumor size and lymph node status.

“If patients have high-risk, aggressive disease, this signature may be helpful for consideration of chemotherapy before surgery or, if patients are at increased risk for complications from the surgery, this information may help them decide whether or not to have the surgery,” Dr. Yeh concluded.

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