Most pancreatic cancer patients not given key blood test at diagnosis

Fewer than one in five patients receive the test, the results of which can allow doctors to personalize treatment for better results.
By Stephen Feller  |  Nov. 3, 2015 at 4:57 PM
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NAPA, Calif., Nov. 3 (UPI) -- A blood test for elevated levels of a tumor marker can indicate the seriousness of pancreatic cancer and help doctors determine the proper path for treatment. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic found in a recent study, however, that just one out of five patients is given the test.

Pancreatic cancer patients with higher levels of CA 19-9, a substance released by several different cancerous tumors, tend to have worse outcomes than others at similar stages of cancer, researchers found in the study, which will be presented at the annual meeting of the Western Surgical Association.

For many patients, chemotherapy is given after surgery to remove pancreatic cancer tumors. Researchers found, however, that using the CA 19-9 blood test can identify patients in greater danger who need different treatment.

"When we looked at how these patients did after surgical removal of their cancers, the only treatment sequence that completely eliminated the increased risk posed by CA 19-9 elevation was chemotherapy followed by surgical removal of the tumor," said Dr. Mark Truty, a gastrointestinal surgical oncologist at the Mayo Clinic, said in a press release.

In the new study, researchers analyzed outcomes for 97,000 patients, using data collected as part of the National Cancer Database. Looking at pancreatic cancer patients whose tumors both secrete CA 19-9 and do not secrete it, the researchers found that early stage cancer patients with higher levels had worse health outcomes.

Despite this, researchers found that only 19 percent of the approximately 50,000 people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer every year receive the tests.

The researchers also found that giving chemotherapy before surgery, rather than only after it, negated the effects of elevated CA 19-9 levels.

"This is another argument for giving chemotherapy before surgery in all pancreatic cancer patients and ending the old practice of surgery followed by chemo," Truty said. "The study answers an important clinical question and applies to every pancreatic cancer patient being considered for surgery."

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