While nobody wants to receive bad news from the doctor, there are few diagnosis that are more feared than that of cancer. And while no type of cancer is a ‘good cancer’ it should be known that in reality, not all cancers are the same, especially when it comes to outcome. And among the worst, is pancreatic cancer.
The statistics don’t lie and they are less than reassuring. According to the American Cancer Society, about 53,670 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Of those, a staggering 43,090 will die as a result. In the United States, pancreatic cancer accounts for 3 percent of all cancers and 7 percent of all cancer-related deaths.
So why is pancreatic cancer so deadly?
The reason is that pancreatic cancer usually doesn’t present very many symptoms, that is until it is too late. Typically, this type of cancer is only discovered when the tumors become too large to successfully treat. Once diagnosed, four out of five patients will die within a year.
However, this story contains good news, because a new blood test has been developed that can accurately detect the presence of pancreatic cancer in its early stages.
“A long-standing concern has been that patients with pancreatic cancer are often not diagnosed until it is too late for the best chance at effective treatment,” says the co-author of the study and director of the Abramson Cancer Centre at the University of Pennsylvania, Robert Vonderheide.
“Having a biomarker test for this disease could dramatically alter the outlook for these patients.”
The researchers used stem cell technology in order to create a cell line from a patient that was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, and in doing so were able to slow down the progression of cancer. However, it also came with another added insight, and that is that researchers noticed a pair of biomarkers, or identifiers found in the blood, that could detect the presence of cancer cells at different stages of tumor growth. The best part – the test can be down easily and inexpensively, using commercially made protein-detection assay.
While some work still needs to be done, researchers are confident that the concept and the test can all be applied very easily going forward. And for the rest of the world, that means that we just received a leg up in the fight against one of the deadliest cancers we know of.