A promising method for detecting pancreatic cancer years before traditional diagnosis

In cancer diagnosis, earlier is better; treatments are more effective and so survival is more likely. Some forms, like skin or breast cancer, lend themselves to early detection with checkups as they can be found by sight or touch. Others are difficult to detect and therefore more deadly.
Pancreatic cancer falls into the latter category. The pancreas is hidden deep in the body where tumors can’t be discovered in routine exams. By the time noticeable symptoms do occur, the cancer is usually in an advanced stage and has often moved into other organs. Some 40,000 people die of pancreatic cancer in the US each year.
A new MIT study, however, offers a ray of hope; pancreatic cancers may be detectable years before a diagnosis would ordinarily be made using traditional methods. After analyzing the blood of 1,500 long-term health study participants, the researchers found those with a flood of particular amino acids were significantly more likely to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer later on.
In collaboration with the Broad Institute, the researchers tested the levels of over 100 different metabolic molecules in the blood, including proteins and sugars, hoping to find the telltale signs, or biomarkers, of the disease. Pancreatic-cancer-biomarker“What we found was that this really interesting signature fell out as predicting pancreatic cancer diagnosis, which was elevation in these three branched chain amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine,” says MIT’s Matthew Vander Heiden, a senior author on the paper, associate professor of biology, and member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.