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The Pancreatic Cancer Case Control Consortium (PanC4) is a group of scientists from diverse biomedical disciplines (Epidemiology, Genetics, Biostatistics, Bioinformatics, Molecular Biology, Gastroenterology, Surgery) across the world who have joined together to improve our understanding of the causes of pancreatic cancer through joint, or pooled analyses of our data.

WHAT IS THE PANCREAS?

The pancreas is a digestive organ and gland (about six inches long), located in the upper abdomen, surrounded by the stomach small intestine, liver, spleen, and gallbladder. It has two main functions:

  • The exocrine function is to produce digestive enzymes that are secreted through pancreatic ducts to the small intestine.
  • The endocrine function is to produce hormones (glucagon and insulin) in the islet cells which help maintain proper level of sugar in the blood.

WHAT IS PANCREATIC CANCER?

Cancer can occur in the cells lining the ducts or in the islet cells. The most common form of pancreatic cancer is (exocrine) ductal adenocarcinoma, accounting for >95% of all pancreatic cancers. The average age at diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is 70, and the majority of patients are diagnosed when the cancer is advanced. Thus, the one-year survival from ductal adenocarcinoma is 24%, and five-year survival is 4%. We currently know that cigarette smoking and having a closes family member with pancreatic cancer can increase one's risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

WHAT IS A CASE-CONTROL STUDY?

Understanding the causes of pancreatic cancers will help us to develop better ways to prevent, treat, and detect the cancer earlier. One of the ways that scientists study causes is to compare people who have a disease (cases) to people who do not have the disease (controls). Both groups are asked to complete surveys and possibly provide biological samples, such as blood or saliva for testing. Scientists then compare whether the cases have more of some exposure (such as smoking) than the controls. Conversely, the scientists may find that the controls had more exposure (such as some dietary factor) than the cases, thus "protecting" them from cancer.

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