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  • Writer's pictureDr. Robert A. Nagourney, MD

Breakthrough in Pancreatic Cancer: New Blood Test for Early Detection, Could Offer Improved Therapy

As we report in the February issue of the journal Metabolites, we have shown, for the first time that pancreatic cancer arises through changes in cellular metabolism, and that these changes can be measured with a simple blood test.


The results offer a new pancreatic cancer diagnostic test that can find the cancer earlier than tumor markers or radiographic measures and lead to more judicious use of therapy.


By comparison, genomic tests of DNA for early detection suffer from false positives and false negatives. Even in patients at the highest risk of pancreatic cancer by genomic markers, like BRCA2 and PALB2 mutations, endoscopy and MRI screening proved ineffective as was very recently reported by investigators in Boston, (Peters, MLB, J. Clin. Oncol., volume 20 #2, pp278-290, 2024).


Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of death from cancer largely because it is almost never caught early. The ability of our blood test to find the disease in its earliest stages, while still curable, could have a major impact on our patients.


Beyond finding the disease earlier than other approaches, our blood metabolic test predicted patient survival. This is unique to our test as genetic DNA tests have absolutely no ability to predict survival.


For over a century, scientists have been trying to connect cancer to cellular energy production and metabolism. But it wasn’t until the development of Quantitative Mass Spectrometry that we could test many of these hypotheses.


Using Mass Spectrometry to measure minute concentrations of bio-chemicals in the plasma, our test identified pancreatic cancer with nearly perfect accuracy.


Our published findings point to an entirely new direction in pancreatic cancer research. Moving beyond genomics and DNA analyses, this research defines pancreatic cancer as a biochemical disorder. As we show, changes in amino acids, blood sugars and lipids, define cancer as a state of metabolic stress.


For the first time, blood concentrations of metabolic byproducts can be accurately measured in real time. This is enabling our team to use highly discriminating ratios that pit amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, against lipids including triglycerides and sugars like glucose.


The results offer a “cancer signature” that distinguishes patients with pancreatic cancer from normal individuals and also distinguishes pancreatic cancer from other forms of cancer, like breast and ovarian.

Pancreatic cancers establish a new set of rules for making and using energy that propels these malignant tumors to succeed, all at the expense of the cancer patient’s wellbeing. 


There is a critical need for better diagnostic and prognostic tests in this highly lethal. Metabolic analyses may be the key to earlier diagnosis and better management.


Our CLIA licensed laboratory is conducting these metabolic tests for our patients who are seen in consultation for pancreatic cancer. We will draw the blood on-site during consultation for the laboratory test.

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