Pancreatic cancer is a lethal disease, with mortality rates negatively associated with the stage at which the disease is detected. Early detection is therefore critical to improving survival outcomes. A recent focus of research for early detection is the use of circulating cell-free tumour DNA (ctDNA). The detection of ctDNA offers potential as a relatively non-invasive method of diagnosing pancreatic cancer by using genetic sequencing technology to detect tumour-specific mutational signatures in blood samples before symptoms manifest. These technologies are limited by a number of factors that lower sensitivity and specificity, including low levels of detectable ctDNA in early stage disease and contamination with non-cancer circulating cell-free DNA. However, genetic and epigenetic analysis of ctDNA in combination with other standard diagnostic tests may improve early detection rates. In this review, we evaluate the genetic and epigenetic methods under investigation in diagnosing pancreatic cancer and provide a perspective for future developments.
Keywords: circulating cell-free tumour DNA; pancreatic cancer; pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma.