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New approach may offer earlier detection of pancreatic cancer

2 April 2013

Research in Japan which measured the level of metabolites in the blood may offer a new test that can detect pancreatic cancer at an earlier stage.

Scientists at Kobe University Graduate School of Medicine measured and compared the levels organic chemical substances known as metabolites in the blood of pancreatic cancer patients, patients with chronic pancreatitis and healthy volunteers.

When they analysed the data, they found that that levels of 18 metabolites were significantly different in the blood of patients with pancreatic cancer compared with the healthy volunteers. Further investigation allowed the team to develop a method to predict a pancreatic cancer diagnosis by assessing the levels of just four metabolites.

In a testing group that included those with pancreatic cancer and healthy people, the results showed an 86 per cent sensitivity and 88 per cent specificity. In further tests, which this time included the patients with chronic pancreatitis, the method showed a 71 per cent sensitivity and 78 per cent specificity.

The researchers believe that this new method could potentially be a safe and simple screening method to detect pancreatic cancer early enough for surgery to be an option for patients.

"Although surgical resection can be a curative treatment for pancreatic cancer, more than 80 per cent of patients with pancreatic cancer have a locally advanced or metastatic tumour that is unresectable at the time of detection," said Masaru Yoshida, associate professor and chief of the Division of Metabolomics Research at in Kobe, Japan. "Conventional examinations using blood, imaging and endoscopy are not appropriate for pancreatic cancer screening and early detection, so a novel screening and diagnostic method for pancreatic cancer is urgently required."

"Our diagnostic approach using serum metabolomics possessed higher accuracy than conventional tumour markers, especially at detecting the patients with pancreatic cancer in the cohort that included the patients with chronic pancreatitis," Yoshida said. "This novel diagnostic approach, which is safe and easy to apply as a screening method, is expected to improve the prognosis of patients with pancreatic cancer by detecting their cancers early, when still in a resectable and curable state."

The study results are published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

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