AIMS: To investigate the prevalence of K-ras codon 12 point mutations in ampullary neoplasms, to explore their clinical usefulness, and to test whether the detection of these mutations could be used to identify ampullary malignancies at an early stage. METHODS: Forty one tumour specimens from 28 patients with ampullary neoplasms were analysed for activating point mutations in K-ras codon 12 using a sensitive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) based assay. RESULTS: Eleven (39%) of the 28 primary tumours harboured point mutations in K-ras. Mutations were identified in seven (41%) of the 17 carcinomas and four (36%) of the 11 adenomas. Four of the possible six permutations in codon 12 were found in these 11 samples. This spectrum of mutations is different from pancreatic carcinoma but resembles that of colorectal neoplasms. Cytological brush specimens were available in 11 cases, and in all of these specimens, the K-ras status in the primary tumour and brush specimens was identical. CONCLUSIONS: K-ras codon 12 point mutations occur in about 40% of ampullary neoplasms at a relatively early stage in tumorigenesis. The pattern of mutations in these tumours resembles that of the adenoma-carcinoma sequence in the colorectum. These results indicate that ampullary neoplasms can be detected at an early stage by searching for genetic alterations in the K-ras oncogene in cytological brush specimens.
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