UCL News


New biomarkers to spot pancreatic cancer early

5 February 2015

Pancreatic cancer could be diagnosed up to two years earlier by screening for two tumour markers found in blood, according to research published in Clinical Cancer Research.

Pancreatic cancer

The study, conducted by researchers from UCL, UCL Hospital Foundation Trust and the University of Liverpool, suggests that these biomarkers could be used as an early screening tool for those at high risk of pancreatic cancer.

Led by Dr John Timms (UCL Women's Cancer) and Dr Stephen Pereira (UCL Liver & Digestive Health), the researchers used blood samples taken from patients before the appearance of symptoms to test for four key markers.

When used in combination, two of these markers, CA19-9 and CA125, were identified as being sensitive enough to detect pancreatic cancer up to two years before clinical presentation.

Although previous research has found increased levels of the biomarker CA19-9 close to disease presentation, this is the first study to find increased levels present in the early stages of pancreatic cancer.

When screened for on its own, CA19-9 can give false positive results as increased levels are also found in those suffering from benign diseases such as pancreatitis and obstructive jaundice. However, the study found that also screening for CA125 improved the sensitivity of detecting pre-clinical pancreatic cancer.

Dr Timms said: "We have for the first time assessed these biomarkers in unique serum samples taken months to years prior to the clinical diagnosis of pancreatic cancer that were sourced from the UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening (UKCTOCS). The work challenges the prevailing view that CA19-9 is up-regulated late in the course of pancreatic cancer development and suggests its potential for screening in high-risk groups, particularly if used longitudinally."

Commenting on the future of the research Dr Pereira said: "Plans are now underway with London Cancer to set up pilot Multidisciplinary Diagnostic Centres for specialist triage and to enhance straight to test pathways with primary care, combining risk assessment and symptom tools with biomarkers to hopefully improve early cancer diagnosis for patients."

The research was funded and supported by Pancreatic Cancer UK, Cancer Research UK, the US National Institutes of Health, the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) University College London Hospitals Biomedical Research Centre and the NIHR Liverpool Pancreas Biomedical Research Unit.




Media contact

Harry Dayantis

Tel: +44 (0)20 3103 3844

Email: h.dayantis [at] ucl.ac.uk