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Tumour biomarkers research shows promise for early detection

Posted by: Research 3 February 2015

A study published in Clinical Cancer Research (February 2015) has found that two tumour markers, of the four that were assessed, were sensitive enough for the early detection of pancreatic cancer and could in the future be used to determine the prognosis of the disease.

Used in combination, the biomarkers could be used as a screening tool for patients at high risk of pancreatic cancer. This represents a very exciting development in pancreatic cancer research where survival from the disease is so low, at just 4% after five years.

The study, part-funded by Pancreatic Cancer UK, was conducted by researchers from University College London (UCL)Hospitals Foundation Trust and University of Liverpool.

About the research

Biomarkers for the early detection of pancreatic cancer are urgently needed to improve survival. However, studies rarely assess biomarkers for early detection using samples from patients taken before the appearance of symptoms, as is the case with this research.

Led by Drs John Timms and Steve Pereira at UCL, the research tested whether a panel of molecular biomarkers could be used as an early detection tool for the diagnosis and prognosis of pancreatic cancer using blood samples taken months to years before clinical diagnosis that were sourced from the UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening biobank.

The study is the first to focus around four key blood-borne markers: CA19-9, CA125, CEACAM1 and REG3A to establish how early they could detect pancreatic cancer. Of these markers, two were sensitive enough to detect pancreatic cancer up to 2 years before diagnosis (CA19-9 and CA125) and could also have use as prognostic markers of the disease.

Often assumed to increase in level close to disease presentation, this is the first research to indicate a possible increase of CA19-9 in early stage disease.

Serum marker CA19-9 is currently the only biomarker used routinely in the management of pancreatic cancer and although a relatively sensitive marker, it can give false positive results, for example in patients suffering from benign pancreatic-biliary diseases such as pancreatitis and obstructive jaundice. The strength of the approach taken by these researchers is the use of biomarkers in combination in the pre-diagnosis setting to assess the risk of having the disease.

Other funders and supporters of this research include Cancer Research UK, the US National Institutes of Health and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) University College London Hospitals Biomedical Research Centre and the NIHR Liverpool Pancreas Biomedical Research Unit.

Read the full study here: http://clincancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/early/2014/06/17/1078-0432.CCR-14-0365