Early Test for Pancreatic Cancer Hopefully On the Way

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most deadly forms of cancer, with a five-year survival rate of only six percent.  The low survival rate is because, in 80% of the cases, it has already spread to other organs when first detected.

Early detection means better treatment options and a much better chance of survival.  The problem is that PanCan has been very hard to detect early.  According to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, “[t]here is currently no standard diagnostic tool or established early detection method for pancreatic cancer,” but such a test is “urgently needed.”

Pancreatic cancer is a particular concern for people battling chronic pancreatitis since about five percent of CP patients will contract pancreatic cancer — a much higher risk than faced by the general population.

Fortunately, life-saving help may be on the way.  This summer, researchers led by a team at MD Anderson Cancer Center announced that they have developed a blood test that detected pancreatic cancer with “absolute specificity and sensitivity.” Put simply, this means 100% accuracy.  The test detests “exosomes” — tiny particles released by cancer cells — that are present when a patient has pancreatic cancer, but not when the patient has chronic pancreatitis.  The exosomes apparently have value beyond detection, providing doctors with helpful information on the stage and precise mutations of the cancer — opening up the possibility of customized therapies.

By OpenStax College [CC BY 3.0]

Moreover, because detection involved a blood test, it is much less invasive than the usual diagnostic tools used for PanCan, such as CT scans and endoscopic ultrasounds…but with greater accuracy.

The researchers caution that larger studies are required to validate the findings, but note that 100% accuracy is extremely encouraging (and not something often found in such tests).

It is high time that doctors had effective tools to detect and fight this lethal disease.  We should all hope — and demand — that the test be made commercially available as soon as possible.