Genetics of
pancreatic cancer

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Cancer cells are different from normal cells. Cancer develop because of abnormalities in the genetic material in the cells. In cancer cells, the genes that control growth are abnormal, causing uncontrolled growth of the cells. The uncontrolled rapid growth of cancer cells leads to formation a of cancerous tumor.

The genetic changes that predispose to cancer develop as a consequent of the interaction between an inherited genetic profile and damage to the genes from environmental toxins such as cigarette smoking and toxic chemical pollutants.

Some of the genetic changes that give rise to pancreatic cancer are now understood by researchers and may be identified by genetic testing. In the majority of patients we do not know the cause for the pancreatic cancer.

Genetic Counseling

Cancer of the pancreas seems to run in some families. An inherited tendency to develop this cancer may occur in about 5 to 10% of all patients with pancreatic cancer. In families that have strong history of pancreatic cancer a consultation with a genetic counselor is important to estimate the individual risk for pancreatic cancer.

While screening of family members at risk for pancreatic cancer is not well-defined, new technologies such as endoscopic ultrasound and laboratory characterization of genetic changes may provide an option for closer follow up some patients to detect the cancer at an early stage.

The genetic counseling program at Norris Hospital will evaluate your risk and advise on necessary genetic studies and follow up studies that may be required.

Genetic mutations in pancreatic cancer

Researchers have made some progress in identifying some of the genetic changes that might predispose an individual to pancreatic cancer. The ras gene is abnormal in 95% of all patients with pancreatic cancer. The p53 and BRCA-2 genes make a protein that slows or prevents growth of normal cells and protects the cells against cancer. These genes are called tumor suppressor genes.

A mutation (an abnormal change in the gene) of the p53 and BRCA-2 gene induces cells to produce abnormal proteins that alters the growth of the cell. BRCA-2 genes are thought to be an important cause of breast cancer and may be responsible for up to 10% of all breast cancers. Recent studies have suggested that BRCA-2 genes may also play a role in the development of pancreatic cancer.The p53 gene that is abnormal in 75% of all pancreatic cancer.

Familial Melanoma

This is a rare inheritance syndrome and affected family member carry skin moles and melanomas. There is also an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer in this group of patients. A mutation (genetic abnormality) of the p16 gene, which is a very important gene responsible for controlling the growth of normal cells, is found in patients who are at risk for developing inherited melanoma. Abnormality of the p16 gene is associated with a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

Inherited pancreatitis

This is another rare condition in which family members have an increased risk of developing pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). The family members are also at a much higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Recent studies have shown that a mutation in a gene called the cationic trypsinogen gene is responsible for developing inherited pancreatitis.

Inherited Colon cancer:

Hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC) is a relatively frequent cause of colon cancer and may be responsible for development of colon cancer in one in 200 people who develop colon cancer. Patients with HNPCC have a predisposition to develop cancers of the colon, stomach, and gynecological cancers and also an increased risk for developing pancreatic cancer.

Contact information: USC Center for Pancreatic and Biliary Diseases
1510 San Pablo Street, Los Angeles, CA
1-855-724-7874 dde-mail:
Programs: pancreatic cancer, pancreatitis, laparoscopic surgery, endocrine surgery,
biliary surgery

This web site provides select information about pancreatic and biliary disorders and is updated twice monthly. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical consultation with your physician.It is important that you consult with your physician for detailed information about your medical condition and treatment.The center will make every effort to update the site, however, past performance is no guarantee of future medical outcomes.
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