With a 5-year survival rate of less than 5%, pancreatic cancer is aggressive, deadly and an all-but-certain death sentence, in part because it is usually metastasized before doctors spot it. Japanese scientists have come up with a blood test that would screen for certain metabolites to help detect the disease earlier than current diagnostics allow, and potentially boost those survival odds.
HealthDay News reports on the research, from the Kobe University Graduate School of Medicine. The journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention publishes their study in detail. As these things go, the test is an improvement because it appears to diagnose the disease at an earlier stage, giving a greater chance for chemotherapy to delay pancreatic cancer's advance.
But not everyone is impressed by the possibilities of such a test. That's because even if pancreatic cancer is detected at stage 1, it has likely spread beyond the pancreas and survival odds are already diminished, Dr. James D'Olimpio of the North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute in Lake Success, NY, told HealthDay News, who did note to the news organization that the test was "an improvement" over the existing standard of care. And some would argue even boosting a patient's survival odds just a little bit can be a major improvement. More research is needed, as well as, likely, further tests of the Kobe team's novel biomarker approach.
The research team initially identified 18 metabolite biomarkers in the blood that are at different levels in patients who have pancreatic cancer versus healthy patients, and then narrowed that down to four (metabolites are metabolism byproducts). They reached that point by initially studying 43 pancreatic cancer patients and 42 healthy ones. A subsequent validation study fine-tuned the process by looking at 42 pancreatic cancer patients, 41 healthy ones and 23 with chronic pancreatitis, a condition that can be confused with pancreatic cancer.
To conduct the blood sample analysis, the Kobe team used gas chromatography mass spectrometry plus a data processing system using an in-house library. They achieved a 71.4% sensitivity and 78% specificity. They also accomplished a 77.8% sensitivity for patients with resectable pancreatic cancer--higher than with current biomarker tests. As well, their false-positive rates dipped lower than the standard diagnostic--to 17.4%.