A scientist advances early detection research by examining a pancreatic cancer patient’s blood

Pancreatic cancer is notoriously difficult to find in its earlier, and more treatable stages. For this reason, research teams across the country are striving to create blood tests, or liquid biopsies, to noninvasively detect the disease earlier.

Here are three things to keep in mind about the research surrounding pancreatic cancer blood tests.

1. There’s promising research.

While it’s exciting to hear about a noninvasive strategy, like a blood test, that can differentiate individuals with or without cancer, the next step to developing an early detection strategy is to evaluate whether it can identify cancer in people who have not yet been diagnosed.

In order to accomplish this, a prospective (forward-looking) trial would have to be conducted in high-risk individuals. Since pancreatic cancer is relatively rare, and because the majority of cases are sporadic (no known cause), screening tests for new early detection tools need to be conducted on people considered at an elevated risk for the disease. It’s important to note that a high risk does not mean that a pancreatic cancer diagnosis is inevitable.

2. Additional research projects are underway to devise new strategies to detect pancreatic cancer earlier.

A blood test is one of many diagnostic tools researchers are striving to develop. More research is happening on other early detection strategies, including projects funded by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s (PanCAN) Early Detection Targeted Grants, to develop new ways to diagnose the disease earlier.

3. Diagnosing pancreatic cancer in its earlier stages can improve outcomes and survival.

Currently, less than 20 percent of pancreatic cancer patients are diagnosed in time for surgery, which can extend patients’ lives. Finding effective strategies to identify individuals who are at an elevated risk, and determining the best way to detect the disease in its earliest (even precancerous) stages, can dramatically accelerate progress toward improving pancreatic cancer survival.

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