Blood test to catch pancreatic cancer in early stages

A new blood test is currently being studied which detects pancreatic cancer in its early stages.

Pancreatic cancer, which is caused by abnormal growth of cells in the pancreas, has few symptoms in the early stages and as a result, only 5 per cent of people diagnosed with this cancer are still alive five years later. Because there are few early symptoms and detection of the cancer is difficult, due to its location in the body, the cancer often becomes too advanced to treat. This blood test could therefore potentially save many lives by detecting the cancer early on, allowing specialists to completely remove it before it spreads, which is the only effective treatment.

Currently the best screening tool for pancreatic cancer is ultrasound, however this is not always an effective detector.  Researchers at Arizona State University have therefore developed this blood test to create a more accurate, effective, and accessible way to spot the cancer in its early-stages.

How it works

This blood test works by recognising the specific extracellular vesicles which the cancerous cells produce in the pancreas, before entering the blood supply. The researchers developed gold nanoparticles which selectively bind to these cancer vesicles in blood samples. Once the nanoparticles have bound to these vesicles, they signal the presence of pancreatic cancer by changing their light-emitting properties.

The researchers found that in the study they performed, the test picked up early stage pancreatic cancer in more than 90 per cent of cases.

Further testing was also done to see if the blood test could distinguish between pancreatic cancer and pancreatitis. The reason for this being that pancreatitis, an inflammatory condition, is often difficult to distinguish from pancreatic cancer using ultrasound. The blood test however, was very effective and could tell the difference between the two conditions.

Future research

As the development of this test is in its early stages, wider testing is still required and the researchers plan to conduct larger trials.

If the test is approved, it will be the only blood test available for the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. This could be very valuable for large-scale screening and could also be adapted to screen for other diseases such as lung cancer and tuberculosis.

This blood test could therefore revolutionise the way doctors detect and diagnose pancreatic cancer, potentially leading to an increase in the survival rates of this nasty disease.

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