A new study provides insight into how pancreatic cancer develops and spreads, offering hope for better diagnosis and treatment.

Many of the important changes that are thought to cause this disease happen “all at once,” like a “big bang,” according to researchers from the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and University Health Network's Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

The current view is that pancreatic cancer develops gradually and sequentially but the findings published in Nature challenge this.

The researchers hope that these findings could improve diagnosis and help predict how the disease will develop and when it will metastasize.

"Pancreatic cancer is one of the most deadly types of cancer and still one of the least understood," said Dr. Steve Gallinger, one of the co-authors of the study.

"These findings provide us with a new understanding of how pancreatic cancer develops and a path forward to identify better strategies to diagnose and target this terrible disease."

Using whole genome sequencing the researchers reconstructed the history of pancreatic cancer development in 100 independent tumours and they were able to get some perspective into why pancreatic cancer is so aggressive.

Michelle Capobianco, from Pancreatic Cancer Canada, told CTVNews.ca the results were exciting, since pancreatic cancer is often difficult to diagnose due to the late presentation of symptoms and is often inoperable by the time of diagnosis.

Improving clinical outcomes has also proven to be stubbornly difficult, which highlights the urgent need for scientific advances.

Capobianco added: “It’s still very early days but the research shows promise.”