New blood test could help detect pancreatic cancer early

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In a new study, researchers found that a blood test may be able to detect the most common form of pancreatic cancer in early stages.

It may also help doctors accurately stage a patient’s disease and guide them to the appropriate treatment.

The test—known as a liquid biopsy—was more accurate at detecting disease in a blinded study than any other known biomarker alone, and was also more accurate at staging disease than imaging is capable of alone.

The research was conducted by a team from the University of Pennsylvania.

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), the most common form of pancreatic cancer, is the third leading cause of cancer deaths.

The overall five-year survival rate is just nine percent, and most patients live less than one year following their diagnosis. One of the biggest challenges is catching the disease before it has progressed or spread.

If the disease is caught early, patients may be candidates for surgery to remove cancer, which can be curative.

For locally advanced patients—meaning patients whose cancer has not spread beyond the pancreas but who are not candidates for surgery based on the size or location of the tumor—treatment involves three months of systemic therapy like chemo or radiation, then reassessing to see if surgery is an option.

For patients whose disease has spread, there are currently no curative treatment options.

The majority of patients who are diagnosed already have metastatic disease, so there is a critical need for a test that can not only detect the disease earlier but also accurately tell us who might be at a point where we can direct them to a potentially curative treatment.

The team developed a blood test to screen for a panel of biomarkers instead of just one biomarker on its own.

These markers include carbohydrate antigen 19-9 (CA19-9) and KRAS mutational burden, which are known to be associated with PDAC.

In a test group of 47 patients (20 with PDAC, 27 who were cancer free), the test was 92% accurate in its ability to detect disease, which outperforms the best known biomarker, CA19-9 (89 percent), alone.

The researchers then used samples from the 25 patients whose imaging showed did not have metastatic disease.

The Penn test was 84% accurate in determining disease staging, which is much higher than imaging alone (64%).

While the test still needs to be validated in a larger cohort, researchers say they are excited by the promise of what it could potentially mean for a patient population in need of this kind of advancement.

The lead author of the study is Erica L. Carpenter, MBA, Ph.D., director of the Liquid Biopsy Laboratory.

The study is published in Clinical Cancer Research.

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