Investigational Blood Test May Identify Patients’ Responsiveness to Pancreatic Cancer Treatment

December 14, 2020
Darlene Dobkowski, MA

Results from this blood test may help develop informed treatment plans for pancreatic cancer and potentially help patients avoid unnecessary treatment.

A blood test may be able to predict how a patient with pancreatic cancer, specifically pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas, will respond to chemotherapy, according to data from a study published in Clinical Cancer Research.

Determining whether patients will positively respond to treatment is important, especially since many of these patients are resistant to therapy and often relapse within one year.

“Knowing which type of pancreatic cancer a person has is critical to implementing the right treatment strategy for each patient,” said Brian Haab, professor of metabolic and nutritional programming at the Center for Cancer and Cell Biology and assistant dean of Van Andel Institute Graduate School in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in a press release. “We hope that our new test, which detects a marker produced by cancer cells of one subtype and not the other, will one day soon be a powerful tool to help physicians make the best decisions possible.”

The test assessed in this study measures levels of sialylated tumor-related antigen, which is a sugar produced by a subtype of pancreatic cancer that enters the bloodstream. It has been previously shown that pancreatic cancers that produce this biomarker do not typically respond to chemotherapy.

“A blood-plasma assay is important because biopsy specimens from the pancreas can be difficult and risky to obtain with sometimes uncertain results,” the study authors wrote.

Results from the study demonstrated that this biomarker has significantly increased resistance to several chemotherapeutics often used for pancreatic cancer. These include etoposide, cisplatin, fluorouracil, gemcitabine, paclitaxel, oxaliplatin and irinotecan. Compared with patients who tested negative for the biomarker, those with primary tumors who tested positive for it did not benefit from adjuvant chemotherapy, which is often administered in addition to the primary treatment to potentially increase effectiveness.

This blood test was also able to identify patients that may quickly relapse after undergoing neoadjuvant chemotherapy, which is therapy administered before surgery.

“The immediate implication of this result relates to the development of treatment plans for patients with resistant [pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas],” the study authors wrote. “For patients with resectable [pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas], potentially morbid operations could be avoided if rapid relapse following surgery could be predicted a priori. For patients with metastatic disease and patients undergoing neoadjuvant therapy, a practical biomarker could guide the choices and comparisons of the treatment options.”

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