Pancreatic cancer is commonly considered the deadliest of all cancers — a mere 11% of adults are still living five years after diagnosis. One big reason is that pancreatic cancer is so difficult to detect. Early symptoms are subtle or nonexistent, and it is impractical to screen widely for the disease because the tests required to identify it are invasive. By the time doctors order a test to confirm the presence of cancer, it’s often too late.
That might be about to change, thanks to Bluestar Genomics, which has developed a new non-invasive “liquid biopsy” test for pancreatic cancer. All it takes is a blood test.
Why does this matter to readers with diabetes? If you’ve been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes recently, or if you know somebody that has, here’s the important part: Pancreatic cancer is eight times as common in patients over the age of 50 with a recent diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. The pancreas is, after all, the organ that produces insulin, the part of the body that is so inextricably linked to diabetes. Sometimes, new cases of type 2 diabetes may actually be a consequence of early, undetected pancreatic cancer. The difficulty involved with diagnosing pancreatic cancer has heretofore prevented routine screening.
This month, Bluestar announced positive results from a validation study of the technique, which has already been granted FDA breakthrough designation. Now it’s full steam ahead for the business, as it tries to bring the new test to widespread clinical use.
Should adults with recently diagnosed type 2 diabetes seek out the test? I asked that question of Samuel Levy, PhD, Bluestar Genomics’ Chief Scientific Officer. He was a bit hesitant to make too strong a recommendation, acknowledging that “there is no currently established standard of care for early diagnosis of this disease.” The medical establishment — and that includes both medical authorities and the insurers that pay for everything — hasn’t yet had time to decide how widely the new test should be employed.
But he did tell me that “it is imperative to test recently diagnosed type 2 diabetes patients to confirm whether their biology is becoming cancerous. Research shows that detecting cancer early when it’s still treatable can extend lives tenfold.”
If you’re already interested, I’ll cut to the chase. You can find a clinic offering the new test by getting in touch with Bluestar in one of the following ways:
Levy told me that “the link between Type 2 diabetes and pancreatic cancer goes both ways and has been well-established.
“Multiple studies have shown that people with recently diagnosed type 2 diabetes — regardless of gender or ethnic background — are at higher risk for pancreatic cancer. In fact, patients newly diagnosed within three years have an eight times higher risk. Our studies have focused on people aged 50 and older.”
Bluestar Genomics’ new test evaluates whether an individual has an abnormal DNA signal by assessing levels of 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmC), a biomarker of pancreatic cancer. The test enables clinicians to diagnose pancreatic cancer early, when is likely to still be treatable.
It’s too early to say if the test will eventually be used to screen most adults with newly-diagnosed type 2 diabetes. The Bluestar Genomics team certainly hopes that it will.
In a press release, CEO Dave Mullarkey stated: “With our focus on high-mortality cancer detection in high-risk patients, we can finally start changing this paradigm.”