Hope For the Future

Examining the Potential of a Pancreatic Cancer Blood Test
Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 8:21am
Associate Professor of Oncology

Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest diseases in the world and the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States. A major contributing factor for pancreatic cancer’s high death rate is a lack of effective early detection or screening tests.

Many patients who present with pancreatic cancer are not diagnosed until they have reached late stages. Only about 20 percent of patients, at the time of diagnosis, are eligible for curative surgery.

That statistic underscores the importance of detecting pancreatic cancer as early as possible — however, this can be challenging. The pancreas itself is located in the retroperitoneal area, at the back of the abdominal cavity, and is surrounded by many other organs. Its location, and relative inaccessibility, means cancer in the pancreas can grow to Stage III or IV before patients ever display symptoms. As it stands, effective screening tests are not available and routine screening is not recommended.

With that in mind, I’d like to discuss a study that recently appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Although the research is in its early stages, the study raised hope for the future.

Scientists in Copenhagen administered a blood test to both pancreatic cancer patients and healthy volunteers. Following the test, the researchers examined the microRNA panels found in each blood sample. Upon combining the microRNAs panel with CA19-9 (a cancer marker also found in blood, typically expressed in pancreatic cancer patients), the researchers found a high level of accuracy in detecting patients with pancreatic cancer.

For a complete explanation of the study, please watch the accompanying video.

I want to emphasize that the study found in JAMA is a research article. These preliminary findings need to be further validated as part of a larger study, but I believe the results are part of a promising development and the researchers are headed in the right direction. A valid blood test would certainly go a long way in improving the early detection of pancreatic cancer. If the research is expanded upon, hopefully the study can someday be transitioned into clinical care.