A blood test which measures the level of PAM4 in the blood offers promising results for the early detection of pancreatic cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, in 2009, 42,470 new cases of pancreatic cancer were reported. Last year, 35,240 Americans died of pancreatic cancer. (1) Physicians unanimously agree that early detection of cancer insures a better prognosis.
At the 2010 Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium held in Orlando, Florida, David V. Gold, PhD., of the Garden State Cancer Center in Belleville, New Jersey, presented the findings of a study on the effectiveness of PAM4 levels in detecting pancreatic cancer at an early stage. The study was conducted jointly with researchers at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.
The aim of the study was to identify and quantify serum PAM4 protein. PAM4 is an antigen, which is a substance, usually a protein, on the surface of a cell or bacterium that stimulates the production of an antibody. It is present in 90% of pancreatic cancers. The PAM4 screening was performed on 68 patients who had undergone pancreatic surgery and 19 healthy control subjects. Overall sensitivity for detecting pancreatic cancer was 81%. The breakdown of sensitivity to staging was 62% for stage 1, 86% for stage 2, and 91% for stages 3 and 4.
Dr. Gold predicts that the test will not be used for screening the general population but rather be used as a screening test for individuals suspected of having or being at high risk for having pancreatic cancer. Likely candidates are individuals with chronic pancreatitis and diabetes, heavy smoking habits, heavy alcohol consumption, and a family history of pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer. The investigators acknowledge the need for further development of this test and project clinical availability in 2 to 3 years. (2)
Maryann Gromisch is a registered nurse with clinical experience in medical/surgical and critical care nursing. She has experience assisting a gastroenterologist in a private practice setting.