Researchers have discovered a protein that pancreatic tumors consistently shed into the blood, making a potentially significant advance toward a blood test that could catch the deadly cancer early.
Experts are cautiously optimistic about the findings. More research is needed to make sure any blood test based on results is useful.
It is expected that it would first be used to monitor patients who have been treated for pancreatic cancer. However, the hope is that it can eventually be used in early diagnosis.
Currently, few people survive pancreatic cancer because it is rarely caught early, when it can be cured with surgery
Symptoms of pancreatic cancer include weight loss and jaundice, usually arise only after the disease has spread.
Of all people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, only 7 % are still alive five years later in the United States.
Scientists have attempted to find markers or indicators for pancreatic cancer. Proteins in the blood that consistently had specifically signal the presence of the disease.
All of the pancreatic tumors analyzed in the study secreted high amounts of the marker. Just as important, the protein was no released at high levels from noncancerous cells.
For any blood test to be useful in the real world, it has to reliably detect pancreatic tumors and also have a very low rate of false positives.
Researchers wanted to see if they could distinguish exosomes released by cancer cells from those secreted by noncancerous cells. They analyzed blood samples from about 250 pancreatic cancer patients and 32 breast cancer patients. As a comparison, they used blood samples from healthy donors and small groups of people with other conditions, such as pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is the chronic inflammation of the pancreas.
They found that exosomes from cancer cells, but not other cell types, harbored high levels of the protein.
However a potential issue is that other cancers also release high amounts of the protein.