“Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive disease made even more devastating by its tendency to spread before detection, which is a serious roadblock to successful medical treatment”, explained lead investigator Brian Haab, Ph. “We hope that our new test, when used in conjunction with the currently available test, will help doctors catch and treat pancreatic cancer in high-risk individuals before the disease has spread”.
When it comes to pancreatic disease, very little advancement has been made over the last few decades. The American Cancer Society estimates a five year survival rate of less than 10%, and this figure is just slightly higher than it was in the early 1990s.
The main reason why patients are often diagnosed only after the malignancy has aggressively advanced is that initial stages typically present no obvious symptoms. By the time it is discovered, the disease has evolved quite far, making treatment more complicated and leading to poorer outcomes. The new screening method promises to help doctors detect the disease before it reaches more advanced and difficult-to-treat stages.
In essence, both test work very similar – they detect and measure levels of sugars synthesized by pancreatic cancer cells that eventually find their way into the blood stream. The difference with the new test, sTRA, is that it looks for a sugar produced by a separate subset of pancreatic cancers than CA19-9, which is the current marker for detection. When used together, the approach analyzes a wider selection of markers, making it more reliable and accurate.
“We believe using these tests in a complementary fashion will help physicians detect pancreatic cancers much sooner in the disease process, which significantly improves a patient’s chance for survival”, noted Dr. Haab. “Right now, there are few options for people suspected to have pancreatic cancer. This combined blood test could be a simple, cost-effective way to detect disease early enough to improve patient outcomes”.
The CA19-9 test was first introduced around 40 years ago and can detect roughly 40% of pancreatic cancers. The combined method makes screening and early intervention a lot more viable, especially in people with a higher risk of developing the disease. This includes patients with a family history of pancreatic cancer, who have had pancreatic cysts or chronic pancreatitis, or who were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes later in life (which can be an early symptom).
Early detection can make a significant difference when it comes to fighting cancer, and it is expected that this life-saving diagnostic test will soon become widely available.
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