Early Detection of Pancreatic Cancer: New Method Shows Promise

Endoscopy sensor uses blood flow indicators to detect the fatal condition sooner

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Pancreatic cancer is one of the most deadly forms of cancer. The disease has been particularly hard to detect early enough for doctors to make much of a difference. But that could change, according to new research.

This new research was designed to find new ways to detect pancreatic cancer in earlier stages.

The researchers successfully identified pancreatic cancer using a new type of sensor that analyzes increased blood flow to the target area of the body.

"Talk to your doctor about risk factors for pancreatic cancer."

Michael Wallace, MD, MPH, gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL, led this research.

Dr. Wallace and team conducted a pilot study to determine if a specialized new type of sensor could detect pancreatic cancer, the fourth leading cause of cancer death in America.

Other types of imaging and detection had not proved effective in catching pancreatic cancer, which carries a death rate of 74 percent at one year and 94 percent at five years.

The new fiber optic probe detects an increase in blood flow to areas of the intestine. The early blood flow is a marker of potentially harmful lesions that can develop into cancer.

The measurements were taken during an endoscopy procedure.

The pancreas produces hormones and enzymes that help digest food.

Dr. Wallace and colleagues studied 14 pancreatic cancer patients with an average age of 72. These patients were compared to another 15 patients, average of 63, without cancer.

To measure the presence of increased blood flow, the researchers looked at deoxyhemoglobin concentration (DHb), the amount of the blood protein hemoglobin that has been stripped of oxygen, and average blood vessel radius (BVR), a measure of blood vessel width.

The team found that levels of deoxyhemoglobin and blood vessel radius were both higher in cancer patients than in the comparison group. That could allow the researchers to identify pancreatic cancer patients just through the test.

In the cancer group, DHb measurements alone identified pancreatic cancer 92 percent of the time. DHb in combination with BVR also correctly identified pancreatic cancer 92 percent of the time.

The researchers acknowledged the small number of patients was a limitation to their work.

But the success in this pilot trial could eventually lead to a useful clinical application if the results are repeated in larger study groups, something already under way.

“We are now confirming our findings in a much larger study, involving institutions in the US and in Europe,” Dr. Wallace said in a prepared statement.

"Although this is a small pilot study, the outcome is very promising. There is no test now available that can accurately identify pancreatic cancer at an early stage, short of removing some of the organ. We need new ways to detect pancreatic cancer effectively, and simply, as early as possible," Dr. Wallace said.

This research was published in the most recent issue of the peer-reviewed journal Gastrointestinal Endoscopy.

Funding was provided through grants from the National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute and the Mayo Clinic Foundation for Medical Education and Research.

The authors did not disclose any conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
June 13, 2014
Last Updated:
June 16, 2014