Cancer Research UK scientists have made a surprise discovery that could predict which pancreatic cancer patients are likely to do better after surgery, a paper published in today’s Cancer Research1 reveals.

The study shows that pancreatic cancer patients have better prospects when levels of a specific protein are low or undetectable in the cell nucleus.

The protein at the centre of the discovery is called calcyclin. Its role in pancreatic cancer is unknown, but researchers believe that patients who do not produce this protein have a better outcome.

The research was carried out on pancreas cells taken from patients following surgery.

Calcyclin was found in higher amounts and more frequently in pancreatic cancer cells compared with normal pancreatic cells.

Moreover, it was found that the protein was often present in the very early stages of cancer development and before the cancer had become aggressive.

Dr Eithne Costello says: “ We do not know whether calcyclin is a marker for pancreatic cancer growth, or whether it is an actual underlying cause promoting the growth and spread of pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer is particularly difficult to treat and identifying this protein for further research is an important step in understanding pancreatic cancer. We now need to determine what the role of this protein is in pancreatic cancer, and establish what its contribution to the rapid progression of this disease may be.”

Dr Lesley Walker, Director of Cancer Information at Cancer Research UK says: “Our knowledge of pancreatic cancer and how it develops is still in its infancy. This research is an important first step into understanding it better. The protein calcyclin looks as though it may have an important role in this disease, and further work is needed to find out exactly what that is.”

Information on pancreatic cancer is available on Cancer Research UK’s patient information website CancerHelp UK

  1. Cancer Research65 (8)


Calcyclin is also known as the S100A6 protein.Although resection and adjuvant chemotherapy offers a significant survival advantage, only up to nine per cent of patients undergo potentially curative surgery and most patients die from the disease within six to eight months of diagnosis.

Information on help and support organisations is available on Cancer Research UK’s patient information website, Cancer Help UK.

Pancreatic cancer is the eighth most common cancer in women, and the eleventh most common cancer in men in the UK. Each year, there are almost 3,600 new cases in women, and over 3,300 cases in men. Pancreatic cancer develops from the cells within the pancreas. If left untreated, cancer cells can spread into nearby organs or lymph nodes, or, eventually, break away and spread to other parts of the body.

Signs and symptoms

Pancreatic cancer does not usually cause symptoms in its early stages. When symptoms do occur, they may be vague. Pancreatic cancer is hard to detect early because the pancreas is located deep inside the body. In many cases, it may have spread outside the pancreas by the time a doctor diagnoses it. Symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain: This can occur when the cancer presses against nerves in the abdominal area. Of course, there can be many reasons other than cancer for abdominal and/or back pain.
  • Unexpected weight loss: Weight loss that has continued over a period of months is common symptom of pancreatic cancer. This may be accompanied by nausea, loss of appetite and weakness.
  • Digestive problems: Digestive problems may occur if the cancer blocks the release of pancreatic juices into the bowel. This can cause problems with the break down of fatty foods, which can result in stools (bowel motions) which are pale, bulky and greasy.
  • Jaundice: Jaundice is a yellow discoloration of the skin and the whites of the eyes. There are many reasons for jaundice other than cancer, for example hepatitis, or obstruction of the common bile duct due to gallstones.

People who notice any of the above changes should consult their doctor. However, these symptoms can often be due to reasons other than pancreatic cancer.