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Blood test may help catch the nation’s number four cancer killer early

3D illustration of Pancreas - part of digestive system, medical concept.

SCIENCE TRANSLATIONAL MEDICINE– Pancreatic cancer is country’s #4 cancer killer and an especially tough cancer to beat because it usually isn’t detected until late in the disease. But a new, low-cost blood test could change that.

The test is still in the investigative stages, but a new study published in Science Translational Medicine finds it works with an 87% sensitivity. That means 87% of the time, the test can correctly identify someone with stage 1 or 2 pancreatic cancer.

The test also has 98% specificity, meaning it has the ability to accurately rule out cancer in a person who doesn’t have it.

The study’s author is Kenneth Zaret, director of the Penn Institute for Regenerative Medicine. He explains, “What we found is a biomarker panel that’s very cheaply, conveniently assayed in the blood and that uses conventional methods used by diagnostic centers around the country. So it could be used to detect pancreatic cancer at stages 1 and 2.”

The five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer patients is only 7 percent. It’s projected to become the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States by 2030.

The next step in Zaret’s work is to use the test in more and more patients, specifically those at higher risk for pancreatic cancer.

“It will let us assess whether our biomarker test will allow us to detect cancer even before it is stage 1– stage negative-1, so to speak,” Zaret said.

“Our big goal is to be able to detect pancreatic cancer before it’s at the 13-percent survival rate,” Zaret concludes.