Preliminary results of a new research gives hope that pancreatic cancer could soon be detected in the early stages. To date, no screening test is available for pancreatic cancer and the disease is often only diagnosed at a later stage and by that time, treatment becomes difficult.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Jan. 22, suggests that pancreatic cancer could be identified early with a blood test that looks for certain patterns in the genetic material called microRNA. The researchers said that the presence of these patterns acts as a red flag for pancreatic cancer.

For the study, the researchers analyzed the blood samples of more than 400 individuals with pancreatic cancer and compared these with the blood of 25 patients with chronic pancreatitis and 300 healthy individuals. They also measured the levels of a compound known as CA19-9, which shows up in elevated amount in pancreatic cancer patients. They found that certain microRNA combinations or signatures could identify people who have the pancreatic cancer at an early stage.

The drawback of the microRNA tests is they yield plenty of false positive results although the researchers said that combining the tests with a CA19-9 test can get MRI or CT scans to confirm the condition. The researchers said that the test has potentials albeit admitting the need to validate the initial results.

"Given the dismal prognosis for patients with pancreatic cancer, it is important that new diagnostic approaches, such as the one used in this study, are sought," researchers Donald Buchsbaum, of the University of Alabama in Birmingham, and Carlo Croce of Ohio State University in Columbus, wrote. "However, additional rigorous investigation will be necessary to support and extend these interesting findings."

William Phelps, program director at the American Cancer Society also opined that the researchers should also come up with effective treatment that can make the most of an early diagnosis. "Having an early diagnosis system could be useful," he said. "It's kind of based on an article of faith in that we expect there will be good therapies arising in the future. You would like early detection to be paired with a capacity to treat successfully."

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