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According to the American Cancer Society, pancreatic cancer is currently the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S., and rates are rising faster than any other cancer in the country. Researchers predict it will become the second deadliest cancer in the U.S. by 2030, second only to lung cancer.

One of the reasons pancreatic cancer is so deadly is because there’s no early screening test like the mammogram for detecting breast cancer or the colonoscopy for detecting colon cancer.  Pancreatic cancer is often not detected until it has advanced beyond the pancreas, which makes treatment more complicated and success rates more limited.

Researchers have been studying the causes of pancreatic cancer and have determined that smoking and obesity are two risk factors that impact this disease. Recently, they’ve also revealed that another risk factor is mutations in the BRCA2 gene, which is most commonly associated with breast and ovarian cancer.

Individuals who test positive for a BRCA2 gene mutation have a heightened risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Recent studies have identified genetic BRCA2 mutations in approximately 5% of pancreatic cancer cases, according to the Gastrointestinal Cancer Treatment Center at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

If you have a family history of BRCA mutations, or have been tested and know that you carry an abnormal BRCA2 gene, please know that this is not a cancer diagnosis. It just means that you have a slightly increased risk of developing cancer compared to the general population.

Hopeful News

The hopeful news is that BRCA carriers may be more responsive to certain therapies that affect DNA, including targeted therapies like PARP-Inhibitors, which we discussed in the last blog post, or platinum therapy. As a result, BRCA carriers with pancreatic cancer may live longer than their counterparts who do not carry the mutation.

Given that news, patients who have pancreatic cancer will likely wonder if they should be tested for BRCA mutations. The NCCN Guidelines recommend that all persons diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer, and Medicare Guidelines recommend that most patients with pancreatic cancer, be tested for the BRCA 1/2 gene mutation.

Considering the fact that patients with pancreatic cancer and BRCA mutations might qualify for different therapies, there are good reasons for them to speak to their oncologists about genetic counseling and testing. Knowing whether or not you have a BRCA mutation might affect your treatment plan and life expectancy.

Through dedicated and collaborative research efforts, we are learning more about cancer of the pancreas or breast every day. I’m grateful for the many scientists and physicians who work tirelessly to uncover new treatment strategies, and I’m committed to always staying up-to-date with the latest advances that may benefit my own patients.

If you’d like to discuss the most successful surgical treatments for breast cancer, I am happy to consult with you. Or, if you’ve recently been diagnosed with breast cancer or are wondering if you should seek a second opinion on your diagnosis or surgical plan, I am also happy to consult with you. I have an office at Tennova Turkey Creek in West Knoxville and an office adjacent to Tennova North Knoxville Medical Center just off of Emory Road in Powell.

My extensive research and dedication to continual learning have distinguished me as a leader in the field of specialized breast cancer oncology. To learn more about my compassionate surgical care approach, visit www.aaronmd.com or call (865) 692-1610.