Advances in Screening & Early Detection of Pancreatic Cancer

CURE, Winter 2013, Volume 12, Issue 4

Early research shows promise in screening and detecting pancreatic cancer at its earliest stages.

Scientists have identified a serum protein that shows distinct changes in structure among those with pancreatic cancer compared with healthy individuals. The protein, haptoglobin, and the way it binds to other proteins, also changes between earlystage and advanced disease.

These findings suggest it might be possible to develop a blood test that could be used to screen individuals at high risk of the disease and to detect it at an earlier stage.

Another potential blood test uses metabolomics analysis, an emerging science focusing on small molecules called metabolites, which are products of metabolism and atypical in cancer. This test measures the metabolites found in the blood.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., are looking at a completely different way of early disease detection. They are evaluating testing stool for methylations, a type of DNA modification strongly associated with cancers and pre-cancers. Early results are promising, as methylation markers were detected in stool samples, regardless of the stage or location of the cancer.

Finally, another area of interest is pancreatic cysts. Cysts are generally benign, but some eventually progress to malignancy. Many promising tests are under development to help differentiate a benign from a malignant cystic tumor. If validated, these tests may be used as an another tool to the conventional workup of pancreatic cysts to help better guide patient management and decisions about the need for surgical resection.