Pancreatic cancer is usually found too late to save the patient, so the race has been underway to find better blood tests to detect the sneaky and generally fatal disease. A Japanese team said today that they have found a new approach for testing for the disease which is more accurate than the older blood test. They published their results online today in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, & Prevention.
The researchers tested the technique on the blood of 43 patients known to have pancreatic cancer and 42 healthy volunteers. Active cancer cells, like any other cells, produce metabolites (waste) as they go about their day-to-day lives. The new test involved checking the blood for four of these metabolites.
When they did, they discovered that the method was both accurate and sensitive. In other words, it accurately picked out the patients who actually had cancer without being confused by the 23 pancreatic cancer patients who also had a chronic condition called pancreatitis.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), over 45,000 people a year are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the United States. About 38,500 of them will die, making it one of the most dangerous of cancers.
In a frustrating twist, while the rates are declining for most cancers, the rate of pancreatic cancer is actually on the rise. The ACS explained that much of the fall in cancer deaths has come from early screening for lung, colorectal, breast, and prostate cancers.
When cancer is found too late for surgery or other treatments like bitter melon extract to be useful, the patients face dim prospects. Only two to four percent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer will survive five years.
A competing blood test, which tests for a protein marker found in pancreatic cancer patients, is also being tested in the United States.
The two new blood tests hope to change a grim statistic: In 2010, only seven percent of pancreatic cancers were found before they had spread.
[cancer cell photo courtesy Nephron and Wikipedia Commons]