A breakthrough in pancreatic cancer research has been made thanks to revolutionary 3D technology.
The technique, developed by the Francis Crick Institute in London, involves tissue samples being studied in 3D models and has revealed pancreatic cancer can start and grow in two distinct ways.
The results could make it possible to improve treatment and save lives, researchers say.
Pancreatic cancer is notoriously difficult to diagnose and treat. While survival prospects for many other cancers have increased, there has been little improvement in the pancreatic disease for decades: less than 7pc of people diagnosed will survive beyond five years.
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The breakthrough was made as a result of collaboration between two research groups at the Crick, led by Dr Axel Behrens and Dr Guillaume Salbreux.
Dr Behrens said cancer pathologists have been studying two dimensional slices of tumours showing abnormal shapes for decades without finding a logical explanation for their appearance.
The 3D imaging has helped provide an explanation, with the team defining two distinct types of cancer formation: one that grows outwards and one that grows inwards, into the ducts of the pancreas. The two are also biologically different.
Dr Behrens said: "Our study revealed pancreatic cancers have fundamental shapes that are different. You can now understand what people have been seeing in two dimensions for decades.
"Now we know pancreatic cancer can develop in these two different ways, we can start looking at whether one is likely to be more aggressive or spread in a different way.
"Many years from now, this could lead to improved diagnostic or treatment options."
One development could be personalising treatment for patients depending on which tumour they have.
Dr Behrens said: "You get standard chemotherapy. Some patients actually respond quite well and some don't.
"The question is why and how can we understand beforehand who will respond to chemotherapy and who won't."
Professor Andrew Biankin, Cancer Research UK's pancreatic cancer expert, praised the study, deeming it a "technological breakthrough" that has the potential to "unlock many unanswered questions of great importance in how we understand and treat pancreatic cancer".