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Game-Changing Tumor Marker Test Detects Gastric Cancer with Nearly 90% Accuracy

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 20 Nov 2023

Gastrointestinal cancers like esophageal, gastric, colorectal, liver, and pancreatic cancer often reach an advanced stage before being detected, making effective treatment challenging. Identifying a biological marker that signals the presence of a tumor is crucial for early detection, diagnosis, and monitoring of cancer and its treatment. Such markers are particularly vital for cancers like gastric cancer, where early-stage treatment significantly improves outcomes and survival rates. Researchers have now identified the stromal cell-derived factor 4 (SDF-4) protein as a promising marker for cancer. This discovery is significant because simple blood tests can detect this protein, indicating its potential for early gastric cancer detection.

Current blood tests for cancers such as gastric, colorectal, and breast cancer have relied on tumor markers like CEA and CA19-9. However, these markers don't always detect every cancer accurately, and there's a need to improve their precision. Other proposed markers face hurdles such as complex and expensive measurement processes or require invasive procedures, limiting their practicality. A research team led by Nagoya University (Nagoya, Japan) set out to develop new tumor markers for early cancer detection. They focused on proteins secreted by cancer cells and identified SDF-4 as a promising marker. When they measured SDF-4 levels in blood samples from cancer patients and healthy individuals, they consistently found higher levels in those with various cancers, including gastric, esophageal, colorectal, pancreatic, breast, and liver cancers.

Image: The stromal cell-derived factor 4 (SDF-4) protein has been found to be a reliable cancer marker (Photo courtesy of Nagoya University)
Image: The stromal cell-derived factor 4 (SDF-4) protein has been found to be a reliable cancer marker (Photo courtesy of Nagoya University)

Sensitivity and specificity are critical in cancer diagnosis. Sensitivity measures how well a test can identify the disease in affected individuals, while specificity assesses its accuracy in healthy individuals. The team's research on the SDF-4 protein revealed a sensitivity of 89% and a specificity of 99%, surpassing the sensitivity of traditional tumor markers like CEA (13%) and CA19-9 (17%) in detecting cancer patients. Notably, high levels of the protein were observed in patients with early-stage (stage I) gastric cancer. This suggests that SDF-4 could be a significant marker for detecting cancer at an early stage, potentially before symptoms become evident.

“There are two ways in which SDF4 outperforms conventional tumor markers as a diagnostic marker. The first is that it can diagnose patients with early-stage cancer and the second is that it is useful as a diagnostic marker for various types of cancer,” said Dr. Takahiro Shinozuka, the first author of the study whose findings were published in Scientific Reports. “We are working with a company to develop measurement devices that can be used for cancer screening. If these efforts are successful, we hope to introduce SDF4 into actual cancer screening, helping in the early detection of cancer.”

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Nagoya University

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