Pancreatic Tumor Marker


When you think of jaundice, the liver probably comes to mind. Jaundice is when a person's skin and eyes become yellow. It can mean the liver isn't doing its job of processing and getting rid of bilirubin, a byproduct of dead red blood cells. But in some cases, the pancreas is responsible.

We're talking about the head of the pancreas, where a host of processes important to digestion is located. You see, the liver produces bile for digesting fat and it's stored in the gallbladder. That's also where bilirubin goes after the liver converts it to a form that the body can excrete.

As food leaves the stomach and heads to the small intestine, bile is also released to aid in digestion. To get there, bile, along with bilirubin, travels along the bile duct to the head of the pancreas - the pancreatic duct - and then joins food in the small intestine. Eventually bilirubin will exit the body, giving our stool its dark color.

But when any part of that is blocked, then bilirubin starts to build up in the blood. The challenge is determining the cause of the blockage - is it a pancreatic tumor or gallstones that can be easily removed?

Scientists have found a new marker to distinguish between them. The study measured levels of a molecule called VEGF in the bile. VEGF stands for vascular endothelial growth factor, which is a key regulator of blood vessel formation and is what cancerous tumors need to grow.

The study found that VEGF greater than half of one billionth of a gram per milliliter indicates that there's cancer, and it's accurate in 93% of cases. Screening someone's bile is easier and cheaper than current methods which involve imaging. Being able to diagnose pancreatic cancer early is lifesaving in and of itself.

More Information

Biomarker in Bile VEGF Can Correctly Identify Pancreatic Cancer with High Sensitivity
"Markers in bile could identify cancer earlier than measuring some markers in blood."

Conditions associated with jaundice; Yellow skin and eyes; Skin - yellow; Icterus; Eyes - yellow

What is the pancreas?
From the Sol Goldman Pancreatic Cancer Research Center at Johns Hopkins