Pancreatic cancer is a lethal and slow growing tumor that takes about 20 years to turn malignant. In this study, two-thirds of 61 mutations that were present in parental pancreatic tumor were also conserved in other metastatic tissues. These findings were reported in Nature by Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Johns Hopkins University.

Researchers employed the “molecular clock” taking into account the rate of gene mutations to estimate the total time taken for growth and progress of cancer. Apparently, it takes 11.7 years for a single gene mutation to become cancerous in pancreas and a further 6.8 years for it to cause a tumor in a secondary organ. Death occurs within the immediate 3 years.

This form of cancer cannot be treated because the tumor is highly advanced by the time it is detected. Pancreatic tumor is also metastatic in that the mutations or genetic changes related to cancer can spread to cause cancer in other tissues of body. DNA sequenced from “primary” tumor tissue in pancreas and metastatic tumor tissue from other infected organs had several common mutations.

This work addresses the need for early detection of pancreatic cancer. Early detection is necessary in this case because the disease is highly advanced at the time of detection and its metastatic nature results in changes in genome as it spreads to other tissues.

Lack of funding is cited as the main reason for survival rates from pancreatic cancer remaining the same. "Survival rates have not improved in the past 40 years and whilst the disease is the UK's fifth biggest cause of cancer death, it receives less than 2% of overall research funding.” says chief executive Maggie Blanks from The Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund.