EVANSTON, IllinoisUsing two novel light-scattering techniques to detect optical markers of pancreatic cancer, researchers have shown for the first time the efficacy of a new approach to detecting the disease without biopsy or direct visualization of the organ (see cover art). In a 51-participant pilot trial, the relatively noninvasive technology identified all 19 patients in the trial with pancreatic cancer, both those with early- and late-stage disease.
Senior author Vadim Backman, PhD, his former graduate student Yang Liu, PhD, and their colleagues envision the high-tech approach as an eventual screening tool for diagnosing pancreatic cancer in its potentially curable stage I or even precancerous form.
"Using endoscopy and taking biopsies of the pancreas are extremely risky procedures that are not used on asymptomatic patients," noted Dr. Backman, professor of biomedical engineering at Northwestern University. "When a patient becomes symptomatic, it is too late. This creates a vicious cycle that we want to break."
The team reported its results in the August 1 issues of Clinical Cancer Research (13:4392-4399, 2007).
Most pancreatic malignancies originate in the organ's 10-cm-long main duct, which perforates the duodenum. Reaching the duct is both difficult and risky, with a 20% chance of significant complications, including pancreatitis (see Figure).
The pilot clinical trial, conducted with physicians at Evanston Northwestern Healthcare, sought to determine the usefulness of the new technology to diagnose pancreatic cancer by assessing normal-appearing periampullary duodenal mucosa without directly imaging the pancreas.