Current understanding of precursors to pancreatic cancer

Kyoichi Takaori
Journal of Hepato-biliary-pancreatic Surgery 2007, 14 (3): 217-23
Precursors to pancreatic cancer have been investigated for a century. Previous studies have revealed three distinct precursors, i.e. mucinous cystic neoplasm (MCN), intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasm (IPMN), and pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PanIN), harboring identical or similar genetic alterations as does invasive pancreatic carcinoma. The current understanding of precursors to pancreatic cancer can be illustrated by progressive pathways from noninvasive MCN, IPMN, and PanIN toward invasive carcinoma. MCNs consist of ovarian-type stroma and epithelial lining with varying grades of atypia, and are occasionally associated with invasive adenocarcinoma. The epithelium of noninvasive IPMNs shows a variety of different directions of differentiation, including gastric, intestinal, pancreatobiliary (PB), and oncocytic types. IPMNs can also harbor varying grades of architectural and cytologic atypia. IPMNs confined to branch ducts are mostly the gastric type, and IPMNs involving the main ducts are often intestinal type, while PB and oncocytic types are rare. Small (<1 cm) IPMNs of the gastric type are not always morphologically distinguishable from low-grade PanINs. Mucin expression profiles suggest intestinal-type IPMNs progress to mucinous noncystic (colloid) carcinoma, while PB-type IPMNs progress toward ductal adenocarcinoma. It is a well-described paradigm that PanIN lesions progress toward ductal adenocarcinoma through step-wise genetic alterations. The activation of Hedgehog and Notch signaling pathways in PanIN lesions as well as in pancreatic adenocarcinoma suggest that developmental pathways may be disregulated during carcinogenesis of the pancreas. Further study is needed to elucidate the pathways from precursors toward invasive carcinoma of the pancreas.

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