Blood-based biomarker panel may enable pancreatic cancer diagnosis at an early stage

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A panel of four blood biomarkers, comprised of the known pancreatic cancer biomarker CA 19-9 and three new biomarkers, successfully distinguished patients with pancreatic cancer from those who were healthy, had chronic pancreatitis, or had pancreatic cysts approximately 90% of the time, according to results presented at the AACR special conference Pancreatic Cancer: Innovations in Research and Treatment, in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The four blood biomarkers together correctly identified 92%, 85%, and 92% of samples as having come from patients with pancreatic cancer compared with samples from healthy people, patients with chronic pancreatitis, and patients with pancreatic cysts, respectively. The panel also correctly identified as negative for pancreatic cancer 94%, 90%, and 91% of samples from healthy people, patients with chronic pancreatitis, and patients with pancreatic cysts, respectively.

“Our biomarker panel was much better at distinguishing patients with pancreatic cancer from those who were healthy, had chronic pancreatitis, or had pancreatic cysts compared with CA 19-9 alone,” said Ayumu Taguchi, PhD, MD, assistant professor at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. “This means that our panel has the potential to substantially reduce the number of patients who would have to undergo extremely invasive screening procedures.”

According to Taguchi, pancreatic cancer is diagnosed in only about 10% of cases when the disease is localized, a situation that improves outcomes. Moreover, current imaging techniques for pancreatic cancer detection are not amenable to widespread screening programs and the CA 19-9 blood-based biomarker is not sufficiently reliable to be used broadly, he added.

Taguchi and colleagues analyzed levels of CA 19-9 and 20 other potential biomarkers in blood samples from 98 patients with pancreatic cancer, 50 healthy persons, and 29 patients with chronic pancreatitis. This initial analysis allowed them to determine the best combination of potential biomarkers for further study.

The four-biomarker panel was validated using blood samples from two independent cohorts: One consisted of 42 patients with early-stage pancreatic cancer, 50 healthy persons, and 50 patients with chronic pancreatitis and the other consisted of 22 patients with early-stage pancreatic cancer and 14 patients with benign pancreatic cysts. In these analyses, CA 19-9 alone correctly identified blood samples as negative for pancreatic cancer in 78% of healthy persons, 78% of patients with chronic pancreatitis, and 76% of patients with pancreatic cysts, compared with 94%, 90%, and 91%, respectively, for the four-biomarker panel.

“We need to further validate our panel using larger numbers of samples collected before diagnosis of early-stage pancreatic cancers,” said Taguchi. “However, we are hopeful that we can develop a panel that will have clinical application.”

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