Early diagnosis can improve the survival rates of any cancer type and also allow physicians to initiate life-saving treatment before the disease becomes fatal. Pancreatic cancer is amongst the types of cancer that is most difficult to detect. Now, researchers at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center say that they have discovered a simple blood test that can detect pancreatic cancer in its early stages from a single drop of blood. The results of their experiments were published in the journal Nature.
According to an NBC report, the researchers said that their experiments on blood samples proved 100 percent accurate in detecting pancreatic cancer at an early stage. They also reported that the blood test may be useful to predict chances of survival and relapse in late-stage patients who had already had surgery.
When a person has pancreatic cancer, the levels of a certain protein in the blood go up. The protein appears in tiny virus-sized particles, called exosomes, only when there is cancer, and therefore its presence could be an early, and testable, marker for the disease.
The researchers examined serum samples from 190 patients with pancreatic cancer, 32 patients with breast cancer and 100 healthy candidates. The marker – exosomes carrying GPC1 – was found in 100 percent of the samples from the patients with late stage pancreatic cancer, while none was found in the healthy samples.
Pancreatic cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer deaths in the United States. The American Cancer Society reports that pancreatic cancer accounts for about 3% of all cancers in the U.S., and accounts for about 7% of cancer deaths. The Society estimates that this year, about 48,960 people (24,840 men and 24,120 women) will be diagnosed with this cancer type.
The results of the new test need to be replicated and its sensitivity and specificity have to be verified on a much larger population. If it becomes available, it will become a powerful tool to support other diagnostic modalities.
The lead author of the study says, “Our study suggests the potential for GPC1 protein as detection and monitoring tool for pancreatic cancer in combination with imaging, with an emphasis on its application in early detection.”