Pancreatic cancer continues to be one of the biggest health concerns for Americans over the past few years. More than 48,000 people in the country were diagnosed with the malignancy in 2015 alone, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). About 40,000 of these patients will likely die from the disease.
A breakthrough discovery by researchers in the United Kingdom, however, could help pave the way for the creation of better testing and treatment for pancreatic cancer.
In a study featured in the journal Nature, scientists at the University of Glasgow found that the pancreatic cancer that many people know of is actually four separate diseases, with each one requiring different diagnoses and therapies.
While the malignancy appeared similar in the 456 pancreatic cancer patients they examined, the researchers were able to identify four primary genetic errors that led to the growth of the patients' tumors.
These errors are classified as squamous-type, pancreatic progenitor, immunogenic and aberrantly differentiated endocrine exocrine.
One aspect that helps make the pancreatic cancers different from one another is the average period a patient is able to survive the malignancy after diagnosis. For example, people who are diagnosed with a squamous-type cancer typically have only four months to live, which is about half of the average survival time seen in other types of the disease.
With this discovery, the researchers believe they will be able to help advance efforts in developing new forms of pancreatic cancer treatments.
"This is the most comprehensive analysis of the blueprint of pancreatic cancer," study co-author Dr. Andrew Biankin said. "So this knowledge reveals what makes these cancers tick and which ones may be vulnerable to particular treatments by defining the Achilles' heel of every cancer."
The findings of the recent study could provide scientists with much needed help in the fight against pancreatic cancer, which has been proven to be a difficult disease to treat.
People who are diagnosed with this type of malignancy are often told by their doctothey only have less than a year to live. Only 1 percent of pancreatic cancer patients are able to survive a decade after diagnosis. This survival rate has virtually remained the same for the past 40 years.
Biankin and his colleagues hope that by targeting various cancers using particular therapies, doctors will be able to treat malignancies in patients at a genetic level.