Blood Test for Pancreatic Cancer Shows Promise
But the screen is meant only for people already at high risk for the deadly illness, experts say
Reporting in the current online edition of the journal Clinical Cancer Research, Ahuja's team said both genetic markers were found in 81 percent of the tested blood samples, but not in samples taken from patients who either did not have pancreatic cancer or had a history of pancreatitis (an inflamed pancreas).
The researchers said the results are much more impressive than, for example, the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test used to screen for prostate cancer, which has roughly a 20 percent success rate.
Still, an 81 percent accuracy rate is "far from perfect," Ahuja said. The test also had a false-positive rate of 15 percent, meaning that 15 percent of people who get the test initially will be told they might have pancreatic cancer when that is not the case.
And Ahuja stressed that the test is not designed as a screen for the population as a whole -- only for those already deemed to be at high risk for the disease.
"The eventual goal is to develop a cost-effective test to test patients who are at high risk," she said. "The beauty of this test is that it can be repeated every year as you go for your annual physical."
Dr. Smitha Krishnamurthi is an associate professor of medicine in the division of hematology and oncology with University Hospitals Case Medical Center & Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, in Cleveland. She applauded the research, saying that "if pancreatic cancer could be detected at an early stage, more patients would be cured."
"This study presents an encouraging step in the right direction," Krishnamurthi said. "The authors have developed a blood test that detected the earliest stage of pancreatic cancer and correctly identified most of the healthy individuals tested. However, this was a very small study. The blood test must be studied in many more patients with early stage pancreatic cancer and healthy individuals to really know if it will be an accurate and reliable screening test for pancreatic cancer."