Only 1 percent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer manage to survive for ten years with most patients dying from the disease months or even just weeks because symptoms do not typically show up until the condition is already in its advanced stage.
A group of researchers, however, has made a discovery that could give hope to individuals suffering from the disease, one of the most deadly types of cancer. In a new study published in the journal Nature, Andrew Biankin, from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, and colleagues conducted whole genome sequencing of pancreatic cancer and found patterns of structural changes that were not previously found.
The researchers identified four kinds of gene arrangements that differentiate the tumors namely stable, scattered, locally rearranged and unstable and that 15 percent of individuals with one of these types may be possibly helped using platinum-based drug that are already in use for treating testicular and ovarian cancers.
Biankin said that although most patients do not respond to platinum therapy, there were a few who had dramatic response that cancer specialists would not see in their lifetime. He cited two patients who received platinum therapy and had their tumors completely disappear. Both patients had advanced stage of the disease they were anticipated to only have a few months left to live.
Compared with other forms of cancer with survival rate of 54 percent for five years, the chances of pancreatic cancer patients of surviving within this period is only three percent. Among the problems with the disease is that doctors struggle to identify which drug to prescribe and since the condition progresses fast, there may no longer be chances to try for a second type of treatment if the first drug given to the patient does not work.
The genetic sequencing marks the initial step towards personalized medicine that would provide customized healthcare to individual patients. Pancreatic cancer may soon be prescribed with drugs depending on the DNA of their tumor. Most treatments these days still involve guesswork.
"A genetic sequence or a genome sequence can pick apart cancers that look very much the same under the microscope and of course, they would respond differently and so by understanding each particular cancer and genome and its particular type, then we can define which therapy is going to be best for that patient so we're not guessing," Biankin said.