Researchers are trying to find a test that can detect prostate cancer early on so that patients have a better chance of surviving. One new test is under the spotlight now.

CBS news reports on the new test that is sweeping the cancer research world. A group of experts have detected a protein that pancreatic tumors pour into a person’s blood.

This protein makes a great advance towards a blood test that could catch the fatal cancer earlier. The blood test would first be used to monitor patients who have been treated for pancreatic cancer.

Dr. Raghu Kalluri, chair of cancer biology at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, commented on the research. He said, “That's the ‘holy grail’ in pancreatic cancer research.”

How many people survive pancreatic cancer today?

Not too many people survive pancreatic cancer today because it is not usually caught early, when it can be cured with surgery. The symptoms include weight loss and jaundice, but they usually arise only after the disease has spread, he said. The National Cancer Institute says that only 7 percent are still alive five years later.

This is not the first time that experts have tried to find a protein that could test for pancreatic cancer. Researchers have unsuccessfully tried, to find markers, or indicators, for pancreatic cancer, proteins in the blood that consistently and specifically signal the presence of the cancer.

Dr. Kenneth Yu, an oncologist from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, who was not involved in the research, commented on it.

He said, “The marker that Dr. Kalluri’s team appears to be better than any others studied so far. This is really impressive. You rarely see something with 100 percent sensitivity and specificity.”

Dr. Yu was referring to the fact that all pancreatic tumors analyzed in the study, which included around 250 patients, secreted large amounts of the marker, a protein called GPC1. It was also important that the protein was not ejected at high levels from noncancerous cells.

Dr. Yu also said that for any blood test to be useful in the real world, it has to reliably decipher pancreatic tumors and also have a very small rate of false positives.

“Kalluri said his team did not actually set out to find an indicator for pancreatic cancer. They were interested in exosomes, which are tiny capsules secreted by all cells -- healthy and otherwise -- that contain DNA and other genetic material,” according to CBS news.

The experts wanted to see if they could decipher exosomes released by cancer cells from those secreted by noncancerous cells.

Dr. Kalluri said that any time the team identified GPC1-enriched exosomes; they could tell it was a cancer cell. And while numerous breast tumors eject high amounts of GPC1, all pancreatic tumors did -- including early stage cancers.

Dr. Kalluri also stated, “For reasons that are not clear, pancreatic tumors seem to be really good.”

Gerry Oginski
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