In the latest clinical trial for a technique to detect pancreatic cancer, researchers found they could differentiate cells that are cancerous from those that are benign, pre-cancerous, or even early stage indicators called mucinous cystic lesions.
Pancreatic cancer is dangerous to screen for, yet deadly if ignored. The pancreas is extremely sensitive--biopsies can lead to potentially fatal complications--but with few symptoms, the cancer is usually detected too late.
The disease is the fourth largest cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, with a five-year survival rate of less than 5 percent. If doctors can find ways to identify early precursor lesions, the disease can be prevented in most individuals.
Reporting online Feb. 10, 2009, in the journal Disease Markers , researchers from Northwestern University and Evanston Northwestern Healthcare report convincing results with their minimally invasive methods for detecting pancreatic cancer.
"This technique allows us to detect changes in cells that look normal using microscopy," says co-author Vadim Backman of Northwestern University. "This level of detail allows us to detect cancer in its earliest stages."
Their techniques, called four-dimensional elastic light scattering fingerprinting (4D-ELF) and low-coherence enhanced backscattering spectroscopy (LEBS), identify the cancer and its precursors by analyzing light reflected off cells in the duodenum, a section of the small intestine adjacent to the pancreas.