NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Pancreatic cancer will strike 53,000 Americans this year, and sadly, most of them will die within a year.
But as CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported Wednesday, an experimental blood test may be able to detect the lethal disease at an early stage.
Pancreatic cancer, like many other cancers, is deadly because it usually does not cause many symptoms until it is at an advanced and incurable stage.
Now, researchers believe they may have fond some blood markers that could detect pancreatic cancer at an early, and perhaps treatable, stage.
Blood tests for cancer – especially early-stage cancer – have been the holy grail of early detection. They are low-risk and usually relatively expensive.
The most common is the PSA test for prostate cancer, and there is a similar test for pancreas cancer. But like the PSA test, the blood marker for pancreatic cancer can be elevated for a number of reasons.
“In other diseases as well that are not cancerous, like pancreatitis or inflammation of the pancreas as well as bile duct obstruction, so it doesn’t tell us specifically about the pancreas cancer,” said Dr. Daniel Labow of Mount Sinai Hospital.
But now, a study in the journal Science Translational Medicine may change that. University of Pennsylvania researchers have found a blood protein, which combined with the old blood test has specifically identified early-stage pancreatic cancer.
Labow, the chief of the surgical oncology division at Mount Sinai Hospital, cautions that the test is very preliminary and so far has only been conducted in the lab – not in actual clinical use. But he said it is a hopeful development.
“Because pancreas cancer is such a lethal disease, anytime we can pick up the disease earlier and give us more information, the better chance we have to impact the survival and cure,” he said.
And even if the test is validated, the hard question is who should be tested.
“There’s no great proof that any one population has increased risk, but if there’s any suspicion, then obviously, we could test it early – such as patients with chronic pancreatitis; certainly a significant family history of pancreas cancer,” Labow said.
Another use for the test would be to find early signs of recurrence after a patient has had pancreatic cancer.
In any case, researchers will have to validate the blood test in real-world situations in the clinic before it can be approved – and that could take years.