Blood sample test

Early detection of pancreatic cancer

A cancer diagnosis is never good news, but one for pancreatic cancer is among the most challenging. With five-year survival rates for patients as low as 3-15%, it is the most lethal of the common cancers in the UK and globally. To make matters worse, 80% of patients cannot even be offered potentially life-saving surgery because the cancer is too advanced when first detected.

The problem is compounded because, unlike breast cancer for example, it’s hard for people to detect their own cancer, and there’s no regular screening because there are currently no established biomarkers for early signs of the condition.

Improving early detection times is therefore the primary goal to improve patient outcomes, and it’s the focus of a new Cancer Research UK (CRUK)-funded study called the UK-Early Detection Initiative (UK-EDI). The £2M project is headed up by Professor Eithne Costello, a molecular biologist based at the University of Liverpool’s Department of Molecular and Clinical Cancer Medicine, who with colleagues is working on the development of novel approaches to detect pancreatic cancer early in people newly diagnosed with type2 diabetes.

The connection with diabetes is that at the time of cancer diagnosis, well over half of all pancreatic patients have elevated blood sugars with 30% having recently become diabetic. The diabetes precedes the cancer by a year or so, and this window is when a timely intervention can save lives.

“The UK-EDI project is exploring the link between diabetes and pancreatic cancer,” says Professor Costello. “We are recruiting 2,500 people over 50 years old who have been diagnosed with diabetes within the last six months. We are working with the Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC) and Liverpool Clinical Trials Centre, to optimise recruitment and ensure best practice among researchers and for participants.”

Blood samples and clinical data will be collected from participants at appointments every six months for two years. Comparisons between those that do and those that do not go on to develop pancreatic cancer should help researchers pinpoint biomarkers for this deadly disease.

The promise of the diabetes connection means other research groups are on the same track. A large cohort study, the Consortium of Chronic Pancreatitis, Diabetes and Pancreatic Cancer has been launched in the US, and Professor Costello says their ongoing collaborative relationship will enable them to share samples and data. International collaboration also continues with EUPancreas – a European research network.

We develop our studies with the involvement of the Liverpool Pancreatic Patient Advisory Group to ensure that our research meets the needs of the patients.

With connections from over two decades working from the University of Liverpool, Professor Costello, her colleagues and collaborators are well positioned to give hope to the near 9500 people who die from pancreatic cancer every year in the UK.

Back to: Liverpool Cancer Research Institute