‘ENGINES’ ACCELERATE PANCREATIC CANCER
CANCER RESEARCH UK scientists have discovered that a family of proteins
found in pancreatic cancer cells may contribute to the aggressive nature
of the disease, according to a study published in GUT*.
Researchers, also supported by the North West Cancer Research Fund and
the Medical Research Council, were able to track the proteins, called
CapG and Gelsolin, in tissue samples from normal and cancerous cells.
They found abnormally high concentrations of both proteins in the tumour
CapG and Gelsolin have roles in regulating cell movement. This study
suggests that the proteins’ involvement in moving cells around the
body contributes to pancreatic cancer spreading through the pancreas and
to other areas of the body.
Dr Eithne Costello and colleagues, based at the Division of Surgery and
Oncology at the, University of Liverpool, carried out experiments
reducing the amounts of CapG and Gelsolin in pancreatic cancer cells in
the laboratory, and found the spread of cancerous cells could be
reduced. In addition, they found that pancreatic cancer
patients have better prospects when the level of Gelsolin protein is low
They also made the unexpected discovery that the amount of CapG found in
the nucleus of the cancerous cells was proportional to the size of the
tumour. This could mean that this protein is closely linked to
aggressive tumour growth as well as spread.
Dr Costello says: “This research looks at the importance of the
proteins CapG and gelsolin in relation to pancreatic cancer, and the
results are encouraging. These proteins may play a fundamental role in
the aggressive spread and growth of pancreatic tumours.
“We now have a good idea about CapG’s and Gelsolin’s involvement
in tumour spread, but we need to find out their precise contributions to
provide us with important leads for new approaches to treatment.”
Around 7,000 people are diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas each year
making it the eleventh most common cancer in
the country. It most often affects people in middle and old age. Roughly
two thirds of cases diagnosed are in those aged over 70. The incidence
in men and women is about the same. Although surgery and
chemotherapy offers a survival advantage, only around nine per cent of
patients undergo potentially curative surgery.
John Lewys-Lloyd, Chairman of the North West Cancer Research Fund, said:
“I am delighted that North West Cancer Research Fund and Cancer
Research UK have been able to work together to fund what has proved to
be a valuable piece of research by Dr Costello and her team. We
are very much in support of this joint approach in trying to combat
Dr Lesley Walker, Director of Cancer Information for Cancer Research
says: “Pancreatic cancer is often detected
at an advanced stage, and there is an urgent need for effective
treatment. More research is needed on the basic science, and this work
should provide some important leads for new approaches.”
*Pancreatic cancer cells overexpress Gelsolin family capping proteins,
which contribute to their cell motility. Christopher Thompson
et al. (2006) GUT online.
Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer
Pancreatic cancer does not usually cause symptoms in its early stages.
When symptoms do occur, they may be vague. Pancreatic cancer is hard to
detect early because the pancreas is located deep inside the body. In
many cases, it may have spread outside the pancreas by the time a doctor
· Abdominal pain can occur when the cancer presses
against nerves in the abdominal area. Of course, there can be many
reasons other than cancer for abdominal and/or back pain.
· Weight loss that has continued over a period of
months is common symptom of pancreatic cancer. This may be accompanied
by nausea, loss of appetite and weakness.
· Digestive problems may occur if the cancer blocks
the release of pancreatic juices into the bowel. This can
cause problems with the break down of fatty foods, which can result in
stools (bowel motions) which are pale, bulky and greasy.
· Jaundice is a yellow discoloration of the skin and
the whites of the eyes. There are many reasons for jaundice other than
cancer, for example hepatitis, or obstruction of the common bile duct
due to gallstones.
People who notice any of the above changes should consult their doctor.
However, these symptoms can often be due to reasons other than
Information on pancreatic cancer is available on Cancer Research
’s patient information website, Cancer Help