Pancreatic Ductal AdenocarcinomaRSS

Last Updated: August 14, 2017

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What is pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma is the most common form of pancreatic cancer, making up more than 80 percent of cases.1 It begins in the cells of the pancreas’s ducts, which transport juices containing important digestive enzymes into the small intestine.2

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth most common cause of global cancer-related deaths, and is almost always fatal.1 In 2012, it was estimated that around 44,000 new cases of pancreatic cancer were diagnosed and more than 37,000 deaths from this disease occurred in the United States alone, affecting both men and women.3 

Risk factors include having a family history of the disease itself or a history of chronic inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis). Other risk factors include having Lynch syndrome, diabetes, being overweight or obese, and smoking.3

Pancreatic cancer poses a particular challenge for The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA). All cancerous tumors are made up of a combination of normal and cancerous cells – and pancreatic cancer tumors have a relatively low percentage of cancerous cells. TCGA has strict requirements on only accepting samples of tumors with a high percentage of cancerous cells, as this allows for more accurate mutation detection. Because of the challenging nature of this disease, TCGA has relaxed its criteria regarding the percentage of cancerous cells to ensure samples received are representative of the disease. View additional information on pancreatic cancer.

TCGA researchers have:

  • Employed special deep and targeted genomic analysis techniques to study pancreatic cancer, which is particularly difficult to study because pancreatic tumors often have a low percentage of cancer cells compared to cells from supportive tissue

  • Comprehensively analyzed 150 pancreatic tumors and confirmed previous research findings, such as the importance of KRAS and the RAS-MAPK signaling pathway

    • The gene KRAS, which encodes an important signaling protein involved in cell growth and cell death, was mutated in 93 percent of cancers in the study

    • 60 percent of cancers studied that did not harbor a KRAS mutation had a mutation in a gene that encodes a different member of the same RAS-MAPK signaling pathway

  • Identified a novel genomic alteration that promotes pancreatic cancer, RREB1, which also encodes a member of the RAS-MAPK pathway

  • Found that 42 percent of the tumors studied had a genomic alteration that may qualify for a current clinical trial

  • Mapped new genomic features to previously described pancreatic cancer subtypes

    • Analysis of regulatory RNAs, called microRNAs and long noncoding RNAs, as well as chemical marks on DNA, called DNA methylation, grouped these characteristics into two distinct clusters that overlapped with the basal-like and classical subtypes 

See more about TCGA's study on pancreatic cancer.

Where can I find more information about the TCGA Research Network's studies or studies using TCGA data?

View a list of TCGA scientific publications.

Where can I find clinical trials for pancreatic cancer that are supported by the National Cancer Institute (NCI)? 

View a list of NCI-supported pancreatic cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients.

Selected References

1Hariharan, D., Saied, A. and Kocher, H.M. (17 Feb 2008). Analysis of mortality rates for pancreatic cancer across the world. HPB (Oxford). 10(1):58-62.

2What you need to know about cancer of the pancreas. (14 July 2010). The National Cancer Institute (NCI). Booklet: NIH Publication No. 10-1560.

3American Cancer Society: Cancer Facts and Figures 2012. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, 2012.