A new study shows that a blood marker is linked to pancreatic cancer, according to a study published today by scientists at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center and the Mayo Clinic. First author Dr. Halcyon Skinner, assistant professor of population health sciences at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, says the study is the first time pancreatic cancer risk has been linked to differences in telomere length in blood cells. "This suggests a new avenue to identify those with pancreatic cancer or those at risk of developing the cancer in the future,'' he says. Dr. Skinner's colleagues at the Mayo Clinic took blood samples from more than 1,500 people – 499 of them with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and 963 of them cancer-free control subjects. Specifically, the scientists were interested in the length of the telomeres – the end caps on chromosomes – found in white blood cells. They found a direct relationship with the risk of pancreatic cancer: the shorter the telomeres, the more likely a person was to have pancreatic cancer. Telomeres maintain the stability of genes, and are known to shorten with age as cells divide. People of the same chronological age can have vastly different telomere lengths. In other words, some people's cells can by viewed as biologically older than cells from other people the same age. "We know that people with many factors that are classically unhealthy also tend to have shorter telomeres. Those who have had stressful lives, exposed to chronic inflammation, have poor glucose control or smoked cigarettes tend to have shorter telomeres, and that can set the stage for genetic damage,'' Dr. Skinner explains. Shortened telomeres in the blood have already been associated with other types of cancer, including colon cancer.
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