Much like ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer has few symptoms. The majority of patients often aren't diagnosed until the disease is so advanced that treatment isn't likely to be effective. On top of this, the chance of survival is barely 20% for patients with localized disease. Survivin, a biomarker studied by researchers at Fox Chase Cancer Center, may help identify those patients who could respond to treatment.
The researchers looked at levels of survivin in samples from 88 patients with pancreatic cancer who had had surgery for primary tumors and nearby lymph nodes. The researchers saw the biomarker at higher levels in the lymph nodes than in the cancers, and in virtually unnoticeable levels in most healthy tissue. They found that people with lower levels of survivin in their tumors were likely to live longer, especially those who had been treated with gemcitabine. These findings suggested those with higher levels of survivin responded better to specific chemotherapies. The results were presented at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting 2012 in Chicago. The research is at an early stage, so the next step will be to examine other variables that can affect survival.
"Biomarkers for pancreatic cancer are especially useful because the survival is so poor and it's such a bad disease for people to get," explained Saad Khan, a medical oncology fellow at Fox Chase. "We're looking for biomarkers that tell us how the cancer will behave, whether or not it's a more aggressive type that will spread to different parts of the body. Most importantly for our research, we want to see if there are drugs that work better in patients with survivin than in those who don't have it."
Also in pancreatic cancer--this time presented at the ASCO 2012 Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium--researchers have suggested an assay for the biomarker PAM4 can identify early-stage pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma and differentiate it from other pancreatic diseases. Diagnosing pancreatic cancer early--perhaps as part of a health screen--could lead to earlier treatment and better outcomes.