Pancreatic cancer is four different diseases, study finds

Researchers hope that the findings will help to treat the condition

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Indy Lifestyle Online

A new study which has shown that pancreatic cancer is four separate diseases has been hailed as "incredibly exciting." 

The team at the University of Glasgow said the study was as a “launch pad” for finding new treatments for the disease.

Around 8,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with the cancer which affects the large gland in the digestive system each year. It is particularly difficult to diagnose as it does not show symptoms in the early stages.  

The way in which pancreatic cancer is treated has not developed greatly for two decades, said Dr Peter Bailey, one of the study authors, and compared current methods to "hitting the disease with a mallet with your eyes closed."

Around a fifth of those with the disease survive more than a year after being diagnosed, while less than 5 per cent living after five years, and 1 per cent after a decade.

The team at the University of Glasgow studied around 456 pancreatic cancer tumours for the research published in the journal ‘Nature’.

Scientists were able to categorise the disease into four different sub-types: squamous, pancreatic progenitor, immunogenic and ADEX.

Professor Sean Grimmond, who led the study, said: "This study demonstrates that pancreatic cancer is better considered as four separate diseases, with different survival rates, treatments and underlying genetics."

"Knowing which sub-type a patient has would allow a doctor to provide a more accurate prognosis and treatment recommendations.

He explained that cancer drugs that doctors use or are in development can target the disease which are similar to other forms of cancer.

For example, some types of pancreatic cancer are associated with mutations normally found in colon cancer or leukaemia, he said. 

Pancreatic Cancer UK described the findings as “incredibly exciting”. 

Leanne Reynolds, head of research at the charity, said the findings meant that in the future "the right patients can be given the right treatment at the right time".