Blood Test Might Spot Pancreatic Cancer Early
But not early enough to make a big difference in survival rates, an expert says
WebMD News Archive
By Steven Reinberg
FRIDAY, March 29 (HealthDay News) -- A new blood test that detects deadly pancreatic cancer earlier than usual might slightly improve patients' odds for survival, a small Japanese study suggests.
"This new diagnostic test may be a safe and easy screening method that could improve the prognosis of patients with pancreatic cancer through earlier detection," said lead researcher Dr. Masaru Yoshida, an associate professor in the division of metabolomics research at Kobe University Graduate School of Medicine. "A drop of blood contains a lot of information."
Currently, the 5-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is less than 5 percent, largely because the cancer usually has spread by the time it is detected.
The new approach relies on metabolomics technology, an emerging science that focuses on small molecules. The blood test measures byproducts of metabolism, called metabolites, found in the blood.
By looking for differences between the levels of metabolites in patients with and without pancreatic cancer, the researchers are able to identify those with cancer.
Finding pancreatic cancer earlier means more patients can have the tumor removed and live longer than most patients do now, Yoshida noted.
"Conventional tests using blood or imaging are not appropriate for pancreatic cancer screening and early detection, so new screening and diagnostic methods for pancreatic cancer are urgently required," Yoshida said.
Currently, in more than 80 percent of cases of pancreatic cancer, the cancer has metastasized, or spread, making it inoperable, he explained.
One expert doesn't think this test is a breakthrough.
"It's an improvement, but not a breakthrough," said Dr. James D'Olimpio, director of supportive oncology at North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute in Lake Success, N.Y.
"The problem is it's not early enough," he said.
Even if the cancerous tumor can be removed, it's usually too late, he said. By the time the cancer is detected, even in the early stage suggested by their test, the cancer has most likely spread beyond the pancreas, D'Olimpio pointed out.
"The test is able to detect cancer when it is at stage 1, but it's a fatal disease once it gets past stage 0," D'Olimpio said. (Staging, which refers to the severity of a person's cancer, usually runs from 0 to 4.)