Scientists in Denmark say they have identified diagnostic microRNA panels in whole blood that appear to have the ability to distinguish patients with and without pancreatic cancer. They caution, however, that the findings are preliminary and that further research is necessary to understand whether these microRNAs have clinical implications as a screening test for early detection of pancreatic cancer.

The research team published the study (“MicroRNA Biomarkers in Whole Blood for Detection of Pancreatic Cancer”) in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Nicolai A. Schultz, M.D., Ph.D., of Herlev Hospital, Copenhagen University Hospital, and colleagues examined differences in microRNA in whole blood between patients with pancreatic cancer, healthy participants, and patients with chronic pancreatitis to identify diagnostic panels of microRNAs for use in the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Serum cancer antigen 19-9 (CA19-9), which is elevated in approximately 80% of patients with pancreatic cancer, was also measured for comparison.

“This study identified two diagnostic panels based on microRNA expression in whole blood with the potential to distinguish patients with pancreatic cancer from healthy controls,” wrote the investigators in the JAMA article. “Further research is necessary to understand whether these have clinical implications for early detection of pancreatic cancer and how much this information adds to serum CA19-9.”

The scientists believe the test could result in referral of more individuals with symptoms to specialists so that they could undergo imaging studies to potentially diagnose the disease at an early stage.

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