FRIDAY, June 13 (HealthDay News) -- Five proteins linked to early development of pancreatic cancer have been identified by U.S. researchers, who said the finding is a step forward in efforts to develop a blood test to detect this type of cancer in the early stages, when cure rates are highest.
"Our team identified, for the first time, protein changes associated with early-stage pancreatic tumor development in genetically engineered mice that were also found to be associated with the presence of disease in humans at an early, pre-symptomatic stage," senior author Dr. Samir Hanash, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, said in a prepared statement.
They first identified the five proteins in mice with a precancerous condition called pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasma. The condition, if left untreated, eventually progresses to full-blown pancreatic cancer. The researchers then looked for the same proteins in blood samples from 13 people with asymptomatic, early-stage pancreatic cancer.
The study was published in this week's issue of the online journal PLoS Medicine.
If this five-biomarker panel can be developed into a commercial screening test, it may prove particularly useful when combined with a currently available test that measures levels of a pancreatic cancer biomarker called CA19.9. Eighty percent of newly diagnosed pancreatic cancer patients have elevated levels of CA19.9, which is not linked to early-stage disease with symptoms.
The researchers suggested that combined use of the five-biomarker panel and the CA19.9 test may greatly improve detection of early-stage pancreatic cancer before the onset of symptoms and may also help distinguish between cancer and pancreatitis, a noncancerous, inflammatory condition.
Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States. It has a five-year survival rate of only 3 percent. Because there are no symptoms in the early stages, most patients aren't diagnosed until the cancer has spread beyond the pancreas. This is a major reason for the poor long-term survival rates.
The American Cancer Society has more about pancreatic cancer.