A research team from Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) in the US has developed a new blood test that could be used in combination with an existing test to diagnose pancreatic cancer in the disease’s early stages.

Both the tests detect and measure sugars levels generated by pancreatic cancer cells that escape into the bloodstream.

The new test measures the sTRA sugar produced by a specific pancreatic cancer subset, while the existing test measures CA19-9 generated by a different subset.

The combination of these two tests is expected to detect pancreatic cancer subtypes that may be missed when using them individually.

VARI professor Brian Haab said: “Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive disease made even more devastating by its tendency to spread before detection, which is a serious roadblock to successful medical treatment.

“We hope that our new test, when used in conjunction with the currently available test, will help doctors catch and treat pancreatic cancer in high-risk individuals before the disease has spread.”

When tested in a blinded study, the combination test demonstrated the capability to detect approximately 70% of pancreatic cancers with around a 5% false-positive rate.

Results from the study were published in the Clinical Cancer Research journal.

Developed nearly four decades ago, the existing CA19-9 test is said to detect approximately 40% of pancreatic cancers. It is primarily used to confirm a diagnosis or track disease progression.

The researchers hope that the combination of the CA19-9 and sTRA tests could offer a cost-effective screening and early intervention tool for people who are at higher risk of developing the cancer.

Haab added: “We believe using these tests in a complementary fashion will help physicians detect pancreatic cancers much sooner in the disease process, which significantly improves a patient’s chance for survival.”

The team intends to partner with clinical laboratories for further real-world validation of the new approach.