New Test Catches Most Pancreatic Cancers Early

THURSDAY Jan. 21, 2010 -- Researchers report they've developed a test that detects early-stage pancreatic cancer by measuring levels of a protein that's present in 90 percent of cancerous and precancerous lesions.

"Most patients with pancreatic cancer are diagnosed when the disease is advanced and more difficult to cure," study author David V. Gold, a member of the Garden State Cancer Center in New Jersey, said in a news release. "In this study, we found that the PAM4 protein is quite accurate at identifying patients with pancreatic cancer and, if validated in larger studies, would be a promising tool for detecting this disease in its earlier, more treatable stages, before it spreads to other organs."

The researchers were to report their findings Saturday in Orlando, Fla., at the Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium, which is co-sponsored by the American Gastroenterological Association Institute, the American Society for Clinical Oncology, the American Society for Radiology Oncology and the Society of Surgical Oncology.

The team ran the test on 68 patients who had pancreatic cancer surgery and 19 healthy people. The test detected stage 1 pancreatic cancer 62 percent of the time and stage 2 pancreatic 86 percent of the time. Ninety-one percent of the time, it detected cancer in stages 3 and 4.

Overall, the test detected 81 percent of pancreatic cancers.

According to the study, the test rarely picks up cases of pancreatitis -- inflammation of the pancreas -- which is often confused with pancreatic cancer.

Researchers say the test could become a tool for doctors if its value is confirmed by further research. Currently, only 7 percent of pancreatic cancers are detected before they have spread to other parts of the body.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more on pancreatic cancer.

Posted: January 2010


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