The team's preliminary findings come from 46 patients with inoperable pancreatic cancer who were starting any of a dozen chemo regimens, as recommended by their doctors. Yu's team tested blood samples taken from the patients before they started chemo, and at the point that their cancer started to progress again. (The test results were not used to guide patients' chemotherapy choices.)
Overall, the researchers found, patients generally fared better if they happened to be on a chemo regimen that the blood test predicted would be effective.
They typically went about 4.4 months before the cancer began to progress, versus 2.7 months for patients on chemo regimens that the blood tests predicted would be ineffective.
The study is ongoing, and the advantage in the former group has grown, said Yu. But there are still lots of questions. For one, Yu said, there needs to be a study where the blood test is actually used to guide patients' treatment.
One expert cautioned that the research is still at an early stage.
"This is preliminary, and the test is not ready for clinical application," said Dr. Neal Meropol, chief of hematology and oncology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland.
But the results are also promising, Meropol added.
"Studies like this are paving the way for allowing us to select therapies for individual patients," Meropol said.
The fact that the new test relies on a simple blood sample is key, especially when it comes to pancreatic cancer, Meropol noted, because the pancreas is deep within the body so it's hard to get a tumor biopsy sample.
The hope is that the blood test could be used not only before patients start chemo, but during treatment as well -- to try to spot signs that a patient is developing resistance to the drug regimen and may need to switch to another.
"We know that tumors evolve over time, to try to
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