An exciting paper entitled “Clinical implications of genomic alterations in the tumour and circulation of pancreatic cancer patients” was published in Nature Communications on July 7, 2015. The work was primarily conducted at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, with collaborators from other prestigious institutions around the country. Several of the authors of this study are Pancreatic Cancer Action Network research grant recipients as well as current and emeritus Scientific and Medical Advisory Board members.

Sequencing pancreatic tumors provides information about the genetic alterations that cause the initiation and progression of the patient’s cancer. Knowing the precise genetic changes present in a patient’s tumor can allow personalized, or precision, medicine – customizing a treatment plan to the specific characteristics of that tumor.

The authors of the study investigated three methods to sequence pancreatic tumors: using a tissue biopsy to analyze every gene that gets expressed by the cancer cells or preselecting particular genes of interest to investigate, or sequencing circulating tumor DNA that is present in a blood sample from the patient. This latter method, known as a “liquid biopsy,” is a novel strategy to noninvasively obtain genetic information about a patient’s tumor. Excitingly, the authors found that 43 percent of patients with localized disease (confined to the pancreas) had detectable circulating tumor DNA that provided useful information about the genetic makeup of the patient’s tumor.

Regardless of the method of sequencing, the authors determined that over a third (38 percent) of patients had “actionable” mutations in their tumors. Actionable mutations are those that can inform treatment decisions. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s Know Your Tumor initiative allows patients access to molecular profiling of their tumors and a customized treatment plan based on the findings. Encouragingly, many of the same genetic changes reported in the Nature Communications paper are those that we are finding in our patient samples.

For information about Know Your Tumor, pancreatic cancer treatment and other patient services, please call 877-272-6226, Monday – Friday, 7 a.m. – 5 p.m. PT, or email a Patient Central Associate at