Researchers Reveal How Pancreatic Cancer Moves

Pancreatic cancer is known to be dangerous because of its ability to spread. The most common areas the cancer will metastasize are the liver and lungs. In many cases, the outlook for patient’s may depend on which organ the cancer has spread to. Pancreatic cancer that reaches the lungs is easier to treat than when it reaches the liver. But is there a way to tell where the cancer will go? Is there a sign that one form of pancreatic cancer is more dangerous than another? New research from the Technical University of Munich may have uncovered those answers. Keep reading to learn more, or follow the original story here for more information.

What is Pancreatic Cancer?

The pancreas is an organ in the lower abdominal region which produces enzymes used in digestion and the maintenance of sugar in the blood supply. Pancreatic cancer then is the result of tumors forming in the pancreas. The most common form occurs when tumors form in the cells lining the ducts of the pancreas. A rarer form exists, however, which affects the hormone-producing cells of the pancreas.

Pancreatic cancer is difficult to detect early. Some risk factors which increase the odds of developing pancreatic cancer include smoking, obesity, and family history. Patients typically develop pancreatic cancer later in life (most are over the age of 45). Symptoms may include diabetes, jaundice, dark urine, and bowel obstruction.

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Transforming Tumors

Tumors are, in simple terms, large clumps of cells. Tumor cells often group together and take on a sort of scaly quality. Metastasizing cells, however, are a different beast. In order to travel through the body, the tumor cells have to break off from the cluster. When they do, they stretch out, thinning down so as to fit through blood vessels.

When the tumors cells arrive at their destination, they must take on the clinging, clustering pattern once more. This ability to transform, to travel and shape shift, is referred to as plasticity. Not every cancer cells posses this ability. The researchers at Technical University of Munich (TUM) now understand why and how this property functions.

Understanding Plasticity

This quality of tumors to change their shape and migrate has been traced by TUM researchers to a protein. This protein, called E-cadherin, is a type of cell-adhesion molecule that exists on the cell’s outer layer. Researchers identified E-cadherin as the responsible agent involved in the ability of tumor cells to stick together.

When observed in mice, the E-cadherin cell appeared to determine where tumor cells would expand to and how. An absence of E-cadherin resulted in tumor cells which spread to the lungs. These came pancreatic cancer cells did not spread to the liver. When E-cadherin was present, the tumor cells were able to use the cell-to-cell cohesion to metastasize in the liver as well.

Researchers were able to successfully control the movements of cancer cells in mice by manipulating the E-cadherin protein.

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