Masaru Yoshida, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor and chief of the Division of Metabolomics Research at Kobe University Graduate School of Medicine in Kobe, Japan, said that although surgical resection can be a curative treatment for pancreatic cancer, more than 80 percent of patients with pancreatic cancer have a locally advanced or metastatic tumor that is unresectable at the time of detection.
Using gas chromatography mass spectrometry, they measured the levels of metabolites in the blood of patients with pancreatic cancer, patients with chronic pancreatitis and healthy volunteers.
The scientists randomly assigned 43 patients with pancreatic cancer and 42 healthy volunteers to a training set and 42 patients with pancreatic cancer and 41 healthy volunteers to a validation set. They included all 23 patients with chronic pancreatitis in the validation set.
Analysis of the metabolomic data generated from the training set indicated that levels of 18 metabolites were significantly different in the blood of patients suffering from pancreatic cancer compared with other volunteers.
Further investigation led them to develop a method to predict a pancreatic cancer diagnosis using assessment of the levels of just four metabolites.
In the training set, the approach demonstrated 86 percent sensitivity and 88.1 percent specificity. When tested again in the validation set that included patients with chronic pancreatitis, the method demonstrated 71.4 percent sensitivity and 78.1 percent specificity.
Yoshida said that their diagnostic approach using serum metabolomics possessed higher accuracy than conventional tumor markers, especially at detecting the patients with pancreatic cancer in the cohort that included the patients with chronic pancreatitis.
"This novel diagnostic approach, which is safe and easy to apply as a screening method, is expected to improve the prognosis of patients with pancreatic cancer by detecting their cancers early, when still in a resectable and curable state," he said.
The study has been published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.