Pancreatic cancer: a new blood test to detect it sooner

In a new study, researchers report having developed a new blood test to detect pancreatic cancer earlier — hope in the fight against this disease with often poor prognosis.

It is one of the most deadly cancers. As it develops rapidly and most often without causing symptoms, pancreatic cancer is frequently detected late, when it has already spread to surrounding organs or blood vessels. Hence its often poor prognosis, with only 8.5% of sufferers surviving within five years of diagnosis.

The early detection of the pancreas, before the appearance of the symptoms, is thus a workhorse of the fight against this cancer.

In a new study published in Clinical Cancer Research, researchers at the Van Andel Research Institute in Michigan, USA, reported that they had developed a new blood test that, when combined with a pre-existing analysis, would detect close to 70% of pancreatic cancers with less than 5% false positive.

Specifically, both tests detect and measure the levels of certain sugars produced by cancer cells of the pancreas, which then escape into the bloodstream. The sugar measured by the new test, called sTRA, is provided by a subset of pancreatic cells different from that targeted by the pre-existing test, which measures CA-19-9. Used together, these two tests are complementary and can focus on more types of pancreatic cancer.

For researchers, the combined use of sTRA and Ca-19-9 tests would, therefore, be a viable option for early detection of individuals with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer, such as those with a family history of pancreatic cancer, pancreatic cysts, chronic pancreatitis or type 2 diabetes.

“We believe that the complementary use of these tests will help doctors detect pancreatic cancers much earlier in the disease development process, which significantly improves the patient’s chances of survival,” said Brian Haab, principal author of the study. “At present, there are few options for people suspected of having pancreatic cancer. This combined blood test could be a simple and cost-effective way to detect the disease early enough to improve patients’ prognosis, “concluded the researcher.

The team is now planning to partner with laboratories to obtain clinical validation of this dual test for commercialization.


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