Biomarker Could Allow Early Detection and Reduce Mortality in Pancreatic Cancer

Researchers at the MD Anderson Cancer Center have developed a blood test that can detect very early stages of pancreatic cancer before disease progression.

Pancreatic cancer, one of the most deadly forms of cancer, is still dreaded. In 2015, nearly 50,000 people in the US are estimated to be diagnosed with the disease, with about 40,000 predicted to die. As understanding about the disease improves, several different strategies are being considered in disease treatment, including targeting the stromal elements of the tumor, which are known to impart protection from the treatment regimen and also develp drug resistance.

Another reason for the dismal 5-year survival rate of 7% in pancreatic cancer is the fact that the disease is not detected early enough due to lack of symptoms. Now, researchers at the MD Anderson Cancer Center have developed a blood test that can detect very early stages of the disease before it progresses to an advanced 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 Raghu Kalluri, co-author on the study, which was recently published in the journal Nature.

The team of scientists at MD Anderson identified a biomarker, glypican-1, expressed on exosomes circulating in the blood of pancreatic cancer patients, and their levels reduced when patients had their tumor surgically excised. This, according to Kalluri, could help distinguish early stage patients with pancreatic cancer from those with chronic pancreatitis.

The test can also be a cost-effective alternative to a routine CT scan or MRI screening in the population, which can be a big drain on the healthcare system, according to David Piwnica-Worms, a co-author, also at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Early detection would improve outcomes following surgical procedures, which currently can be conducted in only 15% of patients since the disease is detected late in most.

Read more in an associated press release by MD Anderson Cancer Center