DCU research addresses the challenges of pancreatic cancer

Amy Murphy

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Each year 540 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in Ireland,with close to the same number of deaths caused by the disease annually, according to the Irish Cancer Society.

Dr. Sandra Roche of the National Institute of Cellular Biotechnology spoke about the research currently being carried out by the Pancreatic Cancer Research Group at the NICB.

“It’s an area that is so under researched… a lot of Irish cancer research is in breast cancer research,” Dr. Roche explained.

“The survival rates are extremely poor,” added Dr. Roche. The five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is roughly 7 per cent, according to the American Cancer Society. That means approximately 1 in every 13 people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are still alive after five years.

Pancreatic cancer is the 9th most common cancer in women and the 11th most common cancer in men, primarily affecting people aged between 50-80. However, there is far less awareness of pancreatic cancer than there is for other cancers.

“Most people would be very aware of breast cancer campaigns and the Marie Keating foundation… personally I think the reason why that is, is because breast cancer has people that survive the disease, who can become patient advocates. In general, a lot of pancreatic cancer patients don’t survive.”

The research group comprised of lab-based researchers is located on campus in DCU. They collaborate on a national and an international level to try and tackle the disease.

The NICB website explains that pancreatic cancer is difficult to treat because it’s hard for the drugs to penetrate the tumors. The group hopes that their work will eventually enable them to open up tumors and therefore allow better drug penetration.

Currently, the cause of pancreatic cancer is unknown. However some of the factors that are known to increase the risk include alcohol, smoking, and being overweight.

The symptoms associated with the disease, such as abdominal pain, indigestion, loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss, can be hard to distinguish from other illnesses and may be associated with other less serious conditions, according to the NICB website.

Over 50 per cent of people with pancreatic cancer are diagnosed when the disease is at stage IV, according to the National Cancer Registry Ireland. With the disease being detected at such a late and advanced stage, it becomes even more difficult to treat.

The research group hopes that through their samples and a variety of techniques, they will be able to identify patients earlier. “We want to be able to give the Irish patients, hopefully, a little more hope,” added Dr. Roche.

Amy Murphy