A multigenerational family puts their hands together to support pancreatic cancer awareness

There is new information available about identifying and managing pancreatic cancer familial risk.

Editor’s note: Last year, we shared information about hereditary pancreatic cancer during November, Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Since then, there have been some new developments in identifying and managing risk, leading to updated American Society of Clinical Oncology and National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines.

Check out five important things to know about hereditary disease.

  1. About 5 to 10 percent of pancreatic cancer cases are thought to be hereditary. Hereditary pancreatic cancer refers to a known family history of the disease and/or a genetic syndrome that was inherited from previous generations.If you have two or more first-degree relatives who have had pancreatic cancer, a first-degree relative who developed pancreatic cancer before the age of 50, or an inherited genetic syndrome associated with pancreatic cancer, you may have an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer.The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) strongly recommends consulting with a genetic counselor to determine your risk and eligibility for a screening program.
  2. Germline (inherited) mutations can be present without a known family history, too. A recent study, conducted by PanCAN grantee and Scientific and Medical Advisory Board member Gloria Petersen, PhD, and colleagues, made an unexpected discovery.The study found a similar rate of germline (inherited) mutations in pancreatic cancer patients regardless of whether they had a family history of the disease or other types of cancer.Because of this finding, guidelines are beginning to recommend that all pancreatic cancer patients, regardless of family history, undergo germline genetic testing to determine their future risk and the potential risk of their family members.
  3. Screening programs can detect the disease earlier and lead to better outcomes. Another scientific article recently published explored the value of screening and surveillance programs for individuals at risk for developing pancreatic cancer.Partially funded by PanCAN’s 2013 Skip Viragh Inaugural Research Acceleration Network Grant, the research showed that pancreatic tumors that were discovered through a screening program were diagnosed at an earlier stage.And, most importantly, the patients whose disease was found through the Cancer of the Pancreas Screening program showed improved survival, as compared to patients whose tumors were detected outside the screening effort.
  4. Knowing your genetics can help guide treatment decisions. As well as helping people understand their risk of developing pancreatic cancer, information about genetic mutations that occur within tumors can also influence treatment options.Using information about a tumor’s specific mutations and other alterations, known as a molecular profile, to guide treatment decisions is called precision medicine. An example of a mutation that can influence risk as well as treatment decisions is BRCA.BRCA mutations increase a person’s lifetime risk of developing pancreatic cancer, and evidence suggests that BRCA-mutant tumors respond particularly well to platinum-based chemotherapy and a category of drugs called PARP inhibitors.
  5. Patient Central can help every step of the way. Concerned about your risk of developing pancreatic cancer? Take PanCAN’s Risk Assessment Test to determine the best next steps for you.Patient Central Associates can provide valuable information and resources to people who have or are at high risk for developing pancreatic cancer, as well as those whose loved ones have been diagnosed with the disease.

Watch PanCAN’s educational webinar, featuring Dr. Gloria Petersen, discussing the genetics of pancreatic cancer. And learn more about how genetic counselors help assess and manage risk and about types of genetic tests that are available.