Belgian researchers identify five subtypes of pancreatic cancer

April 2019 Medical Research Willem van Altena
3d illustration proteins with lymphocytes , t cells or cancer cells

With more than 1500 new cases detected in Belgium every year, pancreatic cancer today kills nearly all those who develop the disease. An alarming figure that is a driving force behind researchers, such as Dr. Francesco Puleo, gastroenterologist at the Digestive Oncology Clinic headed by Professor A. Hendlisz at the Jules Bordet Institute in Brussels, Professor Jean-Luc Van Laethem, Head of the Digestive Oncology Clinic at the Erasmus Hospital in Brussels, and Dr. Raphael Maréchal, researcher under mandate from the Belgian Foundation against Cancer.

Recently these researchers published a crucial study in the prestigious US Journal for Gastroenterology for a better understanding of pancreatic cancer, thereby paving the way for numerous possible studies on targeted treatment that is more effective.


Today, 1,500 new cases of pancreatic cancer are recorded every year in Belgium. Surgery offers the sole chance of survival but just 15% of patients are deemed operable at the time of diagnosis. Hence the urgency of learning more about this cancer.

The study carried out by five Belgian and French university hospitals, including the Erasmus Hospital and the Jules Bordet Institute for Belgium, relates to the redefining of pancreatic cancer subtypes through the molecular analysis of 309 pancreatic tumour samples. The result was the identification of five cancer subtypes. Each of these subtypes presents a different prognosis and specific characteristics that could predict the effectiveness of certain treatments, such as immunotherapy.

Two components

“The originality of the study lies in the fact that our classification takes into account the two components that constitute the tumour: the tumoural cells and the tumoural micro-environment that plays a very active role in the tumour,” explains Dr. Puleo “Following this discovery there is a need to arrive rapidly at an international consensus on pancreatic cancer subtypes, as was done a few years ago for colon cancer. In this way we can move towards a classification for use in routine practice and clinical research,” concludes professor Van Laethem.

The Belgian study was carried out together with the Hôpital Pitié-Salpétrère and other hospitals in Paris.