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New pancreatic cancer testing methods may lead to earlier diagnosis, higher

Category: Cancer Detection and Tumor Markers

Over the last few months, several new studies have uncovered innovative ways of testing for early-stage pancreatic cancer, one of the leading causes of cancer-related death in the world.

Each year, approximately 42,000 individuals are diagnosed with the disease, resulting in almost 35,000 deaths. The reason for the poor survival rate is due to the fact that pancreatic cancer spreads so rapidly and is rarely detected in its early stages.

Symptoms, such as loss of appetite, jaundice and upper abdominal pain, rarely appear until the disease is fairly advanced, eliminating the option of surgical removal.

Although the direct cause of pancreatic cancer is still unknown, several risk factors include smoking, being obese and having a family history of the disease.

Pancreatic cancer's poor survival rate has led to numerous studies related to early-stage detection.

Researchers from the Garden State Cancer Center in New Jersey have reportedly developed a test that can identify the disease in its earliest period by measuring levels of protein that are present in 90 percent of cancerous and precancerous lesions, according to Health Day.

Study author David Gold and his colleagues used their test on 19 healthy participants and 68 patients who recently had pancreatic cancer surgery.

The test accurately detected stage one cancer 62 percent of the time and stage two cancer 86 percent of the time. The technique was able to correctly diagnose patients with advanced forms of the disease in 91 percent of cases.

"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," said Gold, quoted by the news source.

Currently, only 7 percent of patients suffering from the disease are diagnosed before it spreads to other parts of the body.

Meanwhile, researchers at Queen Mary University's Institute of Cancer and the London National Health Service Trust have reportedly developed a urine test that may be able to detect if someone has a certain form of pancreatic cancer within two hours, according to the Daily Mail.

The test is designed to detect raised levels of a specific protein known as a tumor marker in patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. Additional research is necessary, but the National Health Service hopes that the test will be available within the next five years.

Several drug trials are currently being conducted that may aid in the treatment of pancreatic cancer. Earlier this week, Pfizer announced the promising results of a phase three trial of Sutent, a drug created for kidney cancer patients that has also shown the ability to stop the progression of advanced pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors.

According to researchers, Sutent more than doubled the time patients with pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors lived without cancer progression compared with patients treated with a placebo.

"This trial advances our understanding of the use of novel targeted therapies in a patient population with limited treatment options," said Dr Mace Rothenberg, senior vice president of clinical development and medical affairs for Pfizer’s Oncology Business Unit.

"We are pleased to be working toward filling an unmet patient need, as we did with Sutent four years ago in patients with kidney cancer and gastrointestinal stromal tumors," he added.

Pfizer has recently filed applications with regulators in the U.S to have Sutent approved for treating the pancreas tumors.

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