New blood test to possibly detect early stage pancreatic cancer

EL HASHOMER, ISRAEL – AUGUST 04: A military nurse squeezes drops of blood from Israeli army recruit’s finger onto a DNA test card at the Israeli Defence Force’s (IDF) induction centre August 4, 2008 at Tel Hashomer in central Israel. The IDF has introduced high-tech techniques such as a DNA mapping, digital fingerprinting and high-resolution photography to build a digital database to help keep track of its troops. (Photo : David Silverman/Getty Images)

According to a new study being done in conjunction with MD Anderson, it may be possible to detect early stage pancreatic cancer through a blood test, thereby improving the chances of surviving the deadly disease.

Scientists from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center have discovered a protein in the blood that could be used to detect early pancreatic cancer. The protein is found in exosomes, tiny particles released by cancer cells, according to the study published in the journal Nature.Pancreatic cancer has a high mortality rate particularly because it is diagnosed only at the late stage.

“People don’t feel any symptoms that make them want to go to the clinic until their cancer is stage 3 or stage 4,” said study co-author Dr Raghu Kalluri of the department of cancer biology at the MD Anderson Cancer Center. “Using this test we were 100 percent accurate at identifying all cancer patients.”

Dr Kalluri added that mortality rates for pancreatic cancer patients would significantly decrease if the disease were diagnosed at its earliest stage. The cancer is usually treated with surgery such as the Whipple procedure or a pancreatico-duodenectomy, which involves removing tumors from the pancreas, according to Medical Xpress.

Kalluri and his colleagues analyzed samples from 190 pancreatic cancer patients, 32 breast cancer patients, and 100 control group volunteers. They discovered that the protein marker in exosomes increased with the degree of the disease, meaning the protein was not found in healthy volunteers but is numerous in patients with the advanced stage of the cancer.

In other findings, the protein markers were able to find early stage pancreatic cancer in seven patients and tracked down the progression of the disease as its count dropped in patients who had had to have their tumors surgically removed, according to NBC News.

Currently, diagnosis for the disease can only be done if patients are already exhibiting the symptoms, or if they undergo expensive testing such as MRI or CT scans, according to the Independent.

“Routine screening of the general population for pancreatic cancer using MRI’s or CTs would be prohibitively expensive with the likelihood for many false positives,” said David Piwnica-Worms, co-author of the study from Texas University.

However, the test needs further research and testing before it can be standardized and used in hospital laboratories.

Alastair Watson, professor at University of East Anglia, who was not involved in the research, told the Independent: “A reliable blood test for pancreatic cancer is a holy grail in cancer medicine. Pancreatic cancers are usually diagnosed after when curative treatment is impossible. As a result most pancreatic cancers are fatal.”

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