Researchers develop blood test for early detection of pancreatic cancer

August 27, 2013

By YURI OIWA/ Staff Writer

Researchers at the National Cancer Center in Tokyo and other institutions have developed a blood test that allows for early detection of painful pancreatic cancer. It has an accuracy exceeding 90 percent, even in the early stages of the disease.

Essentially, the test determines whether there has been a decrease in certain proteins in the blood.

It is being hailed as a hopeful breakthrough because most cases of pancreatic cancer are only diagnosed in the advanced stage, making treatment difficult. In Japan, about 30,000 people are diagnosed with the disease every year.

There are few obvious symptoms. Also, tests on the organ are difficult because the pancreas is located behind the stomach.

Because pancreatic cancer is often discovered in the latter stages, the five-year survival rate is only 13 percent. About 29,000 people die from it every year, making pancreatic cancer the fifth leading cause of death by cancer in Japan.

The research team compared blood samples of 112 pancreatic cancer patients with 103 healthy individuals. Proteins related to cholesterol metabolism were measured. For two types that had changes in the number of amino acids, the level of the protein in the cancer patients was found to be only between 70 and 80 percent of the level of the healthy individuals.

Researchers checked for those two proteins in blood samples taken from about 830 patients at seven hospitals, including the National Cancer Center Hospital and the Tokyo Medical University Hospital. They were able to detect even early stages of pancreatic cancer with an accuracy of 92 percent.

While there are currently tests for biomarkers to check for possible pancreatic cancer that are administered at health checkups, the test only detects the cancer when the tumor has grown to a certain size.

The research team combined the new blood test with the existing biomarker test and produced an accuracy of over 99 percent in diagnosing pancreatic cancer.

There are plans to complete a test reagent set in the current fiscal year.

Tesshi Yamada, who heads the Division of Chemotherapy and Clinical Research at the National Cancer Center, said: "Early detection of pancreatic cancer heightens the five-year survival rate to between 60 and 70 percent. That means there is huge significance in early detection through a blood test. We want to make it possible to conduct tests at hospitals around Japan in the next few years."

By YURI OIWA/ Staff Writer
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A patient takes a drug for pancreatic cancer through an IV drip. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

A patient takes a drug for pancreatic cancer through an IV drip. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • A patient takes a drug for pancreatic cancer through an IV drip. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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