Cytokeratin 20 Expression Linked to Poor Survival in Pancreatic Cancer

Cancer Connect

According to an early on-line article published in the journal Cancer, strong expression of the protein cytokeratin 20 in pancreatic cancer is associated with significantly worse survival than low levels or no expression of cytokeratin 20. Patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer who have a strong cytokeratin 20 expression may wish to undergo more aggressive therapy or participate in a clinical trial to improve their outcomes.

The pancreas is a gland located in the abdomen. It produces juices that help digest foods as well as the hormones that help regulate blood sugar levels. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. Each year, approximately 30,000 individuals in the U.S. are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer; nearly the same number die from the disease annually.

There are extreme variations, however, in the duration of survival among patients diagnosed with the same stage (extent) of the disease. This has lead researchers to attempt to identify specific patient or disease variables that may be associated with survival. Those with a poorer prognosis may benefit from more aggressive therapy or a different therapeutic strategy than those with a better prognosis.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School recently conducted a study to evaluate a possible association between levels of cytokeratin 20 in cancer specimens and outcomes among patients with pancreatic cancer. Cytokeratin 20 is a type of protein that is involved in cellular replication. The researchers also included several other variables in their evaluation. They found that cytokeratin 20 is highly associated with duration of survival in patients with this disease.

  • Patients with a stronger expression of cytokeratin 20 from their cancer specimens had a significantly shorter duration of survival than those with a lower expression of cytokeratin 20; the duration of survival continued to improve as cytokeratin 20 levels dropped.
  • Patients with the highest expression of cytokeratin 20 had a duration of survival of approximately one year following surgery, compared to over 100 months for those with the lowest or no detectable levels of cytokeratin 20 expression.

The researchers concluded that the level of cytokeratin 20 expression appears to be highly associated with duration of survival among patients with pancreatic cancer. If future studies continue to provide further evidence of this association, this marker may contribute to individualization of treatment strategies.

Patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer may wish to speak with their physician regarding the risks and benefits of participating in a clinical trial further evaluating the clinical value of cytoerkatin 20 or other markers that may lead to more individualized therapy.

Reference: Matros E, Bailey G, Clancy T, et al. Cytokeratin 20 Expression Identifies a Subtype fo Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma with Decreased Overall Survival. Cancer. 2006. ISSN: 1097-0142. Available at: Accessed January 2006.

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