CANCER
March 13, 2010

Inroads in Early Pancreatic Cancer Detection

Two studies have identified different to detect the risk and presence of pancreatic cancer early, a key factor in improving survival rates.

The results of two new studies may help researchers detect pancreatic cancer earlier and possibly predict who may be more likely to develop it. The studies increase our understanding of a disease that offers a grim prognosis to its sufferers because it is extremely difficult to detect early and treat effectively.

In stage 1 cancers, it was detected 62% of the time; in stage 2 cancer, it was seen 86% of the time. The protein was able to detect the presence of stage 3 and 4 cancers 91% of the time.

Author of the first study, David V. Gold, points out that one of the biggest factors in this grim prognosis is that the disease is rarely diagnosed early enough to treat. His study identified a protein, PAM4, that accurately identifies patients with pancreatic cancer. If the protein's promise as an indicator of the disease is supported by other studies, it will provide a way to detect the disease before it spreads.

The protein that the team focused on, PAM4, was detected in 81% of the 68 pancreatic cancer patients studied. In stage 1 cancers, it was detected 62% of the time; in stage 2 cancer, it was seen 86% of the time. The protein was able to detect the presence of stage 3 and 4 cancers 91% of the time.

Another advantage of using the PAM4 method to detect cancer is that it rarely arrived at false positives by detecting pancreatitis rather than pancreatic cancer – a problem that has been associated with pancreatic cancer tests in the past.

The study was presented last month at the Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium in Orlando, Florida.

The second study, following almost 4,000 participants, found four distinct genetic regions to be strongly associated with pancreatic cancer. One of the genes studied – the telomerase gene – has already been found to be important in several other forms of cancer. Two of the other regions the team identified came as a shock to researchers who said they were surprised at their role in pancreatic – or any form of – cancer.

Chanock, who is a researcher at the U.S. National Cancer Institute, warns that although the four genetic regions investigated definitely are associated with the risk of developing pancreatic cancer, people shouldn't fear that having a change in one of those regions is akin to a diagnosis. The information is simply a very good way of helping to determine which patients need to be monitored more closely for the disease. This study was published in the January 24, 2010 online edition of Nature Genetics.

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