Biomarkers in blood show potential as early detection method of pancreatic cancer

Jan. 30, 2014

Researchers have identified diagnostic microRNA panels in whole blood that had the ability to distinguish, to some degree, patients with and without pancreatic cancer, according to a study published in JAMA. The findings are preliminary, and further research is necessary to understand whether these microRNAs have clinical implications as a screening test for early detection of pancreatic cancer.

MicroRNAs regulate gene expression and play important roles in the development of tumors and tumor metastasis. MicroRNA panels are a combination of several microRNAs. Several specific microRNA profiles (patterns of microRNAs) have been linked to pancreatic cancer tissue. A diagnostic noninvasive blood test for pancreatic cancer would be very valuable, the authors write.

Nicolai A. Schultz, MD, PhD, and colleagues examined differences in microRNA in whole blood between patients with pancreatic cancer (n = 409) and healthy participants (n = 312) and patients with chronic pancreatitis (n = 25) to identify diagnostic panels of microRNAs for use in the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Serum cancer antigen 19-9, an antigen that is elevated in approximately 80% of patients with pancreatic cancer, was also measured for comparison.

The researchers identified two novel panels with the potential for diagnosing pancreatic cancer. They write that the test could result in referral of more individuals with symptoms to imaging: “The test could thereby diagnose more patients with pancreatic cancer, some of them at an early stage, and thus have a potential to increase the number of patients who can be operated on and possibly cured of pancreatic cancer.”