A biological marker (“biomarker”) is a measurable trait or characteristic that can tell researchers something about your body or health. For example, body mass index (BMI) is a common biomarker for weight. However, analyzing BMI can tell doctors about potential health issues (obesity, diabetes). According to News Medical, Danish researchers recently discovered a biomarker associated with biliary tract cancer (BTC). By analyzing inflammatory proteins like interleukin-6 (IL-6), researchers can determine cancer severity. Additionally, it shows researchers how aggressively the cancer might progress. Read the full findings in Clinical Cancer Research.
According to Associate Professor Jesper Anderson, this newly discovered biomarker:
reliably predicts how aggressive a patient’s disease will evolve, which could help doctors make the right decisions about chemotherapy for [each patient with BTC].
While researchers measured and analyzed the levels of more than one pro-inflammatory cytokine, they ultimately determined that IL-6 gave the most insight. Patients with advanced BTC with higher levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines had worse outcomes. This is especially true in regards to IL-6, where high levels indicate higher mortality risk.
Researchers used mouse models of BTC to test this theory. First, they inhibited IL-6 signaling. Once IL-6 was inhibited, chemotherapy more significantly benefited the mice. However, this data will need to be tested in the future for therapeutic benefits. In some ways, determining potential therapies for this cancer is difficult since so few people are diagnosed each year. But looking into whether IL-6 inhibitors could be used to treat these patients could be incredibly helpful.
Biliary Tract Cancer (BTC)
Also known as cholangiocarcinoma, biliary tract cancer (BTC) impacts the tubes which carry bile from your liver to your small intestine. While doctors don’t know the exact cause, there are risk factors associated with BTC. These include age, diabetes, obesity, bile duct inflammation, and conditions like primary sclerosing cholangitis. BTC is considered an extremely aggressive cancer. In many cases, survival rate following diagnosis and treatment is only around 1 year. Many patients will not experience symptoms until late-stage cancer. Symptoms include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Appetite loss
- Muscle aches and weakness
- Pruritis (extreme itchiness)
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
- Unintended weight loss
- Dark urine and pale stool
- Abdominal pain, particularly on the right side
Learn more about BTC.