pancreatic cancerPancreatic cancer can be split into four unique types and the discovery could be used to improve treatments for the disease, according to a study.

The international team of scientists found that the four types were created when large chunks of DNA are shuffled around. The team also identified the genes that could be damaged in this way.

These four disease types are based on the extent of the cancer’s genetic shuffling, with the tumours classified depending on the frequency, location and types of DNA rearrangements.

This shuffling of chunks of DNA causes genetic chaos with genes deleted, wrongly switched on and off or entirely new versions being created.
Among the genetic faults found are some that could potentially be targeted with existing drugs.

Study co-lead, Professor Andrew Biankin, a Cancer Research UK scientist at the University of Glasgow, said: “Despite many decades of research into pancreatic cancer we have faced numerous obstacles in finding new and effective treatments. But our crucial study sheds light on how the chaotic chromosomal rearrangements cause a huge range of genetic faults that are behind the disease and provide opportunities for more personalised pancreatic cancer treatment.”

The study also suggests which pancreatic cancer patients may benefit from platinum-based drugs – these are commonly used chemotherapy treatments, typically used for testicular or ovarian cancer. So far these drugs have had limited impact in pancreatic cancer but the researchers found that a handful of patients who had ‘unstable’ chromosome rearrangements and defects in the DNA repair pathways could potentially benefit, sometimes showing exceptional improvement.

Professor Biankin added: “Being able to identify which patients would benefit from platinum-based treatments would be a game-changing moment for treating pancreatic cancer, potentially improving survival for a group of patients.”