Pancreatic Cancer Detected by Blood Test
Study Shows Test for PAM4 Protein Can Reveal Early-Stage Pancreatic Cancer
"The test was positive in 77% of pancreatic patients, but only 5% of patients with other forms of cancer," Gold says. "Thus we know that if the [test] is positive, there is a large likelihood a patient has pancreatic cancer."
For the new study, the researchers evaluated the PAM4 protein test in 68 people who had pancreatic cancer surgery and 19 healthy people.
The test correctly detected 62% of very early-stage pancreatic cancers that were still confined to the pancreas, 86% of cases that had spread only to nearby tissue, and 91% of later-stage cancers that had spread further throughout the body.
Overall, the test correctly identified 81% of all pancreatic cancers.
Screening for Pancreatic Cancer
If the findings are validated in larger numbers of people, Gold foresees the test being used to screen people at high risk of pancreatic cancer. This includes people with long-term diabetes, those with chronic pancreatitis, people with a history of tobacco or alcohol use, and those with a family history or genetic factors that place them at increased risk, he says.
Also, "if a doctor suspects pancreatic cancer, the test could be used to distinguish between various types of cancer and healthy tissue," he says. The test could also be used to monitor patients who have undergone treatment for signs of recurrence, Gold says.
He predicts the test will be available in two to three years.
In a separate study of 21 people with advanced pancreatic cancer, the researchers also tested whether the antibody could be used as a treatment to bring targeted agents to the cancer.
The antibody is attached to radioactive isotopes and injected into the body. The idea is that once the antibody homes in on tumor cells, radiation is released, killing the tumor cells while sparing healthy tissue.
In the study, tumors shrank in 23% of the patients and stopped growing in an additional 45%, Gold says.
Robert P. Sticca, MD, of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences, who moderated a news briefing, tells WebMD that he is very enthusiastic about the possibilities.
"If we had a blood test that could detect cancer early, we could better manage our patients and we would have few deaths. The added benefit of using it as a treatment option is also very exciting," he says.