By Sara Bondell
When you hear about BRCA genes, you most likely link them with a higher risk for breast and ovarian cancer. But several other cancers are tied to mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2, including pancreatic cancer.
A study recently presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting sheds new light on pancreatic cancer’s link to the BRCA mutation and a new treatment approach specifically for patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer with the mutation.
The study, which published in The New England Journal of Medicine, found that among metastatic pancreatic cancer patients with a germline BRCA mutation, those treated with a therapy called olaparib had a reduced risk of disease progression.
“Around 5% of pancreatic cancer patients have germline BRCA mutations and olaparib treatment showed a 22% response rate in those patients,” said gastrointestinal oncologist Dae Won Kim of Moffitt Cancer Center. “Although the lack of survival benefit is a concern, olaparib is very effective in delaying disease progression in germline BRCA-mutated pancreatic patients.”
The study involved 154 patients whose pancreatic cancer had not progressed while previously being treated with a platinum-based chemotherapy. The patients were randomly assigned to receive olaparib or a placebo. Two years into the study, researchers found that 22% of the patients who received olaparib did not see their disease progress as compared to under 10% of patients who received the placebo.
BRCA1 and BRCA2 are human genes that produce tumor suppressor proteins that help repair damaged DNA. If one of these genes is mutated, DNA damage may not be repaired correctly and cells are more likely to develop additional genetic alterations that can lead to cancer.