Oct. 22 (UPI) -- Researchers have developed a simple blood test to identify pancreatic cancers that are more likely to respond to treatment than others, according to a paper published Thursday by Clinical Cancer Research.
The test detects and measures the levels of a sugar called sTRA, which is produced by some types of pancreatic cancer and escapes into the bloodstream. Pancreatic cancers that produce sTRA often do not respond to chemotherapy, the researchers said.
Testing prostate cancer patients for sTRA one day could guide treatment decisions, sparing patients with untreatable cancers from undergoing unnecessary therapies and experiencing potential side effects.
"Knowing which type of pancreatic cancer a person has is critical to implementing the right treatment strategy for each patient," one of the researchers, Brian Haab, said in a statement.
"We hope that our new test, which detects a marker produced by cancer cells of one subtype and not the other, will one day soon be a powerful tool to help physicians and patients make the best decisions possible," said Haab, a professor at the Van Andel Institute in Michigan.
About 60,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer annually and nearly 50,000 people die from it each year, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Pancreatic cancers are among the most challenging malignancies to treat, due in part to their ability to evade detection until they have advanced and spread.
No reliable way exists to determine whether a patient has a type of pancreatic cancer that will respond to existing chemotherapies, and the result often is a blanket treatment approach that works in some patients but can leave all with troubling side effects.
The new sTRA test evolved from an earlier test that combined an existing diagnostic approach designed to detect a sugar called CA19-9 with a new one that detected sTRA.
The combination approach detected nearly 70% of pancreatic cancers with a less than 5% false-positive rate -- roughly 30% more than the CA19-9 alone, the researchers said.
Both the combination test and the new sTRA test still need to undergo further clinical studies to confirm their accuracy, they said.
"The ... combination test tells us whether there is cancer, and the new sTRA test helps us determine what kind of pancreatic cancer, which then could allow physicians to better narrow down the appropriate treatment plan," Haab said.
"When used in sequence, we believe the combination test and the new sTRA test could help catch and identify pancreatic cancer more quickly and definitively," he said.