A new blood test that can detect pancreatic cancer with 96% accuracy at stages one or two could be made available to British patients within a few years.
Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of the disease because it often remains undetected until it reaches an advanced stage. At these early stages, however, there is still the possibility of successful surgical intervention, according to Carl Borrebaeck, professor at the department of Immunotechnology at Lund University, and lead author of a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Prof Borrebaeck told HuffPost UK that all being well, the test could be made available in the UK in two years time.
There are very few treatment options for advanced pancreatic cancer – the stage at which it is usually diagnosed – and fewer than 7% of people with pancreatic cancer currently live for five years or more. By 2030, it is expected to be the second deadliest type of cancer in the world.
But the new test from Sweden could change this. It works by using an antibody-based technology which creates a snapshot of the immune system response from a single drop of blood. The test then reveals the most clinically relevant changes that appear in the blood, and combines this knowledge into a “disease fingerprint” also known as a biomarker signature.
A series of advanced algorithms and bioinformatics are then used to test which combination of biomarkers best identifies pancreatic cancer. It can then match these “disease fingerprints” to determine whether the patient has early stage cancer.
Development of the test began in 2001 and there have since been nine studies involving just under 3,000 patients. A clinical trial is currently taking place in London and the test could become available in the US and UK in two years, Prof Borrebaeck said.
It’s thought the test could be particularly helpful for screening people who are at a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer, such as those with a hereditary risk, people with newly onset diabetes and patients with chronic inflammation of the pancreas.
The most common symptom of the illness is pain around the upper abdomen, which might also spread to the back. Other key symptoms are unexpected weight loss and jaundice, which is where the skin and whites of the eyes turn yellow. (More on symptoms here.)
Leanne Reynolds, head of research at Pancreatic Cancer UK, told HuffPost UK: “These findings are really exciting and are the result of a huge international effort to speed up the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, something which has been desperately needed for 40 years.”
She noted that further studies are required before the test can be available to patients, but if research in the area continues to show promise the long-term impact could be “transformational” for many affected by the illness.