Pancreatic cancer isn’t the most common form of the disease diagnosed in the United States, but it’s one of the deadliest. With nearly 49,000 new cases diagnosed each year and some 40,000 deaths, this form of cancer has one of the bleakest outlooks. It is estimated that only 7 percent of Americans diagnosed with pancreatic cancer live five years after diagnosis.

The bleak outlook for pancreatic cancer patients is due to a number of different reasons. One of the biggest, however, lamented by doctors is the lack of any real early detection screening procedures. As it stands currently, pancreatic cancer is incredibly difficult for doctors to detect before it has advanced to later, more deadly, forms of the disease.

A new finding may soon open the door on a blood test that could provide doctors an edge in diagnosing pancreatic cancer earlier in the disease’s development. Researchers have discovered that pancreatic tumors constantly release a certain type of protein into the blood. A test to detect this protein may someday yield that all-important early detection protocol.

The protein researchers have isolated is known as GPC1. In a small scale study it was determined that all patients secreted high amounts of this protein. Further study indicated that GPC1 isn’t secreted in high amounts from noncancerous cells.

While GPC1 shows a great deal of promise, researchers warn much study is needed before this marker can be used for routine early screening procedures. Before this can happen, researchers need to expand their trials to determine the effectiveness of the marker. They will also have to ensure that false positives aren’t an enduring problem with any resulting testing procedure.

Although early detection may still be some time away, GPC1 is offering hope where it has not been found in the past. Someday this protein marker may increase survival odds for pancreatic cancer patients by enabling doctors to deliver more effective treatments faster.