Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest cancers with the lowest survival rate. It became more popularly known when Steve Jobs announced his illness and subsequently died from the disease. So, when a team of Australian researchers made a breakthrough in understanding pancreatic cancer, one could not help but get excited at the possibilities.
The biggest discovery made was that one in five patients with pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors have a genetic disposition, despite the fact that they had no family history. How on earth can someone have a predisposition without family history? Well even though there is no family history of cancer, someone can still carry a faulty gene that increases their chances.
It was also discovered that some of the genetic drivers had similarities to mutations that are often seen in breast and colon cancers. This means that some patients will be able to treat their pancreatic cancer with existing medications, or ones currently being developed.
The Benefit of this Knowledge
This understanding of the genetic landscape means that we may be able to test people in the future to see if there is a predisposition and how to avoid it. By studying the tumors now, utilizing biological storage to save the samples, we will be able to “turn off” the faulty gene or even eradicate the gene by changing the genetic makeup in our families.
How Do You Change DNA?
It sounds almost impossible, doesn’t it? Or at least a little like “playing God”. The reality is, we have always been able to change our genetic makeup in some way. If we learn at a young age that we are predisposed to having an illness, either through genetic testing or just paying attention to family history, we can often make conscious decisions to change certain habits in order to turn that gene off. If we turn it off, our children turn it off, and our grandchildren turn it off, we can theoretically eradicate that gene from the family DNA at some point. Mind and body therapies are often touted as not only offering emotional support to cancer patients, but having a positive impact at the cellular level.
How do Mind & Body Therapies Help?
Telomeres are the ends of your cells, like the idea of the cap on your shoelace. The shorter the telomeres, the quicker your cells die. It’s an aging marker and you want your telomeres to stay at their length as long as possible.
A study was conducted with breast cancer survivors to see how the effects of mind and body therapy impacted the illness. A portion of the survivors did not engage in any therapy and a portion engaged in mindful meditation and support groups. Of those that practiced the meditation and support groups, they all kept their telomeres at the length they were. In the group that participated in nothing, the telomeres shortened. This assures us that not only can we receive support for our mental well-being, but that our mental well-being does allow our bodies to heal and maintain good health despite the struggle we face with cancer.
The breakthrough with pancreatic cancer is a fantastic one that we should keep an eye on. We are sure to learn more that will allow for better testing in the research industry and provide better care for people who would otherwise suffer.