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What is the culprit behind inflammation-related pancreatic cancer?

Category: Cancer Detection and Tumor Markers

Chronic inflammation is known to lead to pancreatic cancer, but until now the reasoning has been unclear. A team from the Mayo Clinic in Florida has discovered the origin of inflammation-driven pancreatic cancer, a finding that may help physicians diagnose people at high risk for the disease.

The report revealed how inflammation forces cells that produce digestive enzymes, known as acinar cells, into the pancreas to form duct-like cells. Through lab testing, researchers were able to see that while the cells are transforming, they sometimes become mutated and further progress to become pancreatic cancer.

"We don't know why these cells reprogram themselves, but it may be because producing enzymes in an organ that is injured due to inflammation may cause more damage," said Peter Storz, senior author of the study. "The good news, however, is that this process is reversible, and we identified a number of molecules involved in this pathway that might be targeted to help push these new duct-like cells back into acinar cells, thus eliminating the risk of cancer development."

The team is now looking into existing medications to reverse the process and is testing the effects that they have on the cellular transformation.

Smoking and pancreatic cancer
These findings may provide doctors with a new means of detecting pancreatic cancer, and a way to identify those who are likely to develop the disease. And while there is no surefire way to prevent cancer, there are some measures one can take that may lower the risk of getting it.

The National Institutes of Health reported that smoking is one of the leading causes of pancreatic cancer. Tobacco use can illicit an immunological response, or a defensive reaction in the immune system, to blood vessel-related injury. This response is associated with increased indicators of inflammation, including white blood cell count and C-reactive proteins. If the above study's findings are correct, then smoking will greatly increase one's risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

Smoking also puts people at a significantly higher risk for other types of cancer, especially lung cancer. The NIH noted that smoking results in approximately 443,000 deaths annually, including those that are caused by secondhand smoke exposure.

Lab tests are available to identify certain tumor markers and possibly help diagnose cancer early on, something that often makes treatment more effective.

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