In research published today in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, researchers found that several microRNAs, small RNA molecules, circulate at high levels in the blood of pancreatic cancer patients. Specifically, the research team found that an increased expression of miRNA-10b, -155, and -106b in plasma appears highly accurate in diagnosing pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma is by far the most common type of pancreatic malignancy.
The researchers made the discovery by examining plasma, bile, pancreatic juice or a combination, which had been collected from 215 patients either immediately before or during an endoscopy.
It may be possible to use a blood test to screen individuals who are at high risk for developing pancreatic cancer. The researchers are planning to conduct such studies, and it will be important to identify additional markers.
Such a marker would be an advance against metastatic pancreatic cancer because current treatments typically extend a person’s life for only six to 16 weeks. Pancreatic cancer is difficult to detect and diagnose because there are no noticeable signs or symptoms in the early stages and because the pancreas is hidden behind other organs such as the stomach, small intestine, liver, gallbladder, spleen and bile ducts.
Only 6 percent of people with the disease survive more than five years after diagnosis. According to the National Cancer Institute, there will be an estimated 46,420 new cases of pancreatic cancer and 39,590 deaths from the disease in 2014.
The researchers pointed out that additional studies are needed to confirm that a blood test could be an effective method of diagnosing pancreatic cancer.