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Blood Test May Spot Pancreatic Cancer Early
Date:9/1/2009

Researchers hope to detect the disease while it is still treatable

TUESDAY, Sept. 1 (HealthDay News) -- Texas scientists say they have found small molecules in the blood that can spot pancreatic cancer, a finding that could have diagnostic implications in the future.

Levels of these molecules, called microRNAs, are elevated in patients suffering from pancreatic cancer, the fourth-leading cancer killer in the United States. The disease usually isn't diagnosed until it is in an advanced stage, when treatment is all but ineffective, the researchers say. Less than 5 percent of these patients survive five years past diagnosis.

"We have detected elevated levels of these microRNAs in the blood of pancreatic cancer patients," said lead researcher Subrata Sen, of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center's department of molecular pathology.

"This is an extremely promising finding in terms of developing a blood-based assay for detecting pancreatic cancer," he said.

If such a test could be developed, the question remains: Who should be screened? Sen thinks people with a family history of pancreatic cancer and those with risk factors for the disease, such as smoking, are the first candidates for testing.

However, how early high levels of these biomarkers appear in the development of pancreatic cancer is still unknown, Sen said. "That's the million-dollar question," he said. "That is something that has to be investigated with a bigger patient population."

MicroRNAs are short strands of RNA that regulate what proteins genes make, and they play an important role in both normal cells and cancerous cells. Changes in microRNAs have been seen in different cancers. Because microRNAs can be detected in blood, that may be useful in diagnosing cancer, Sen said.

The report was published in the Sept. 1 online edition of Cancer Prevention Research.

For the study, Sen's team
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