Mutant cell-free DNA as a non-invasive blood test to monitor pancreatic cancer

Close to 5,000 Canadians are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer every year and it is the fourth most common cause of cancer-related deaths in Canada. Unfortunately, a majority of these patients die within a year of their diagnosis, due in part to late diagnosis and tumour resistance to chemotherapy. In addition, most patients who are successfully treated eventually recur and succumb to the disease.

There is a need for reliable blood tests for more routine diagnosis, monitoring treatment response, and detecting tumour recurrence in pancreatic cancer patients. We seek to develop such tests using cell-free DNA in the blood. Mutant forms of cell-free DNA that originate from tumours can be detected in the blood of patients with pancreatic cancer, and this project will explore how we can use it to:

  1. Diagnose pancreatic cancer earlier
  2. Detect cancer recurrence earlier
  3. Identify patients whose tumours do not respond to chemotherapy in order to help guide treatment decisions

We will collect blood from patients who have undergone surgical removal of pancreatic cancers and follow their progress over two years to examine whether we can detect cancer recurrence by monitoring the presence of mutant cell-free DNA after surgery. We will also collect blood from patients with advanced stage pancreatic cancer who are undergoing treatment to explore whether changes in mutant cell-free DNA levels predict whether their tumours respond to chemotherapy.

In these ways, a non-invasive blood test will help to improve quality of life and optimize treatment for thousands of Canadians diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.