Recently, a new multidisciplinary study conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania reviewed a newly developed blood test for the diagnosis of the most common form of pancreatic cancer at an early stage and found that it is effective and may change detection methodologies in the future.
The new test, also deemed as liquid biopsy will help doctors not only diagnose cancer in the pancreas while it is still at an early stage but also predict the behavior of the tumors which can help them determine the right treatment for the patient.
In comparison with other diagnosing biomarkers, liquid biopsy showed the most accurate results in the detection and staging of the disease.
The form of cancer in the research was Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). PDAC is currently among the top three causes of cancer-related deaths. In the majority of the cases, life expectancy is no more than five years.
However, only nine percent of the patients can live up to that long. Statistically, patients with Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma survive for no more than a year after getting an official diagnosis even with treatment.
There are higher chances of survival if the patient is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at an early stage. Usually, health professionals recommend surgery depending on factors such as location in order to remove the tumor from the pancreas and stop any further spread of cancer.
Some people may still not be able to consider surgery as an option due to the size or location of their tumor. For such locally advanced patients, which means people with pancreatic cancer that has not spread to other parts of the body, systematic therapies including radiotherapy and chemotherapy can help.
After three or four months of receiving either of the therapies, doctors examine the condition to check if performing surgery is now possible. On the other hand, people with cancer that has spread beyond the pancreas, there are no treatment options at the moment.
The senior co-author of the study, Erica L. Carpenter who is also the director of the Liquid Biopsy Laboratory and a research assistant professor of Medicine, explains the need for an early detection test in the words:
“Right now, the majority of patients who are diagnosed already have metastatic disease, so there is a critical need for a test that can not only detect the disease earlier but also accurately tell us who might be at a point where we can direct them to potentially curative treatment,”
The research, whose findings appear in the American Association for Cancer Research’s journal known as Clinical Cancer Research, shows the effectiveness of liquid biopsy since it examines multiple biomarkers instead of a single one.
Some biomarkers that can be checked by liquid biopsy include KRAS mutational burden and carbohydrate antigen 19-9 (CA19-9), both of which are known to be linked to Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma.
The researchers were able to reach this conclusion via testing on a group of forty-seven participants, twenty of which had pancreatic cancer and twenty-seven were cancer-free.
The liquid biopsy test was ninety-two percent accurate in the detection of cancer which means that it is more accurate than the CA19-9 biomarker used previously for diagnosis.
Additionally, the team also checked samples from twenty-five patients whose imaging results did not show any signs of cancer spreading. Liquid biopsy was eighty-four percent accurate in telling the disease stage which is more than sixty-four percent accuracy of imaging.
While the researchers agree that the liquid biopsy needs further testing with a larger cohort, they are positive and hope that further investigation can help people with pancreatic cancer significantly.