The Importance of BRCA Genes in Guiding Therapy

Some (5-10%) pancreatic cancers are caused by inherited mutations in one of the breast cancer genes (called BRCA1, BRCA2 and PALB2). These inherited gene mutations are important for two reasons. First, they are important for other family members, as other family members may also inherit one of these mutations and they would benefit from knowing that they are at increased risk of developing cancer themselves. Second, pancreatic cancers that arise in patients with an inherited mutation in BRCA1, BRCA2 or PALB2 appear to be particularly sensitive to specific forms of chemotherapy. This second point is highlighted in the recently published POLO trial. The results of this phase III clinical trial were announced at the recent meetings of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. In this trial patients with a known BRCA gene mutation whose disease had not progressed on a first-line platinum-based chemotherapy were treated with the drug called olaparib, a “PARP-inhibitor.” They found that a clinically-meaningful and statistically significant improvement in progression-free survival for patients treated with olaparib compared to controls. The results of this trial are exciting, and highlight the importance of genetic testing for patients with pancreatic cancer. Indeed, the recent NCCN guidelines recommend genetic testing for all patients with pancreatic cancer. To learn more about the genes that cause pancreatic cancer, click here:
To learn more about this trial, see this article from AP News:

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