Pancreatic cancer is the fourth most common cause of death from cancer in the world and the sixth in Europe. Pancreatic cancer is more frequent in males than females. Worldwide, following diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, <2% of patients survive for 5 years, 8% survive for 2 years and <50% survive for only approx. 3 months. The biggest risk factor in pancreatic cancer is age, with a peak of morbidity at 65 years. Difficulty in the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer causes a delay in its detection. It is one of the most difficult cancers to diagnose and therefore to treat successfully. Additional detection of carbohydrate markers may offer a better diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Carbohydrate markers of cancer may be produced by the cancer itself or by the body in response to cancer, whose presence in body fluids suggests the presence and growth of the cancer. The most widely used, and best-recognized, carbohydrate marker of pancreatic cancer is CA 19–9 [CA (carbohydrate antigen) 19–9]. However, the relatively non-specific nature of CA 19–9 limits its routine use in the early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, but it may be useful in monitoring treatment of pancreatic cancer (e.g. the effectiveness of chemotherapy), as a complement to other diagnostic methods. Some other carbohydrate markers of pancreatic cancer may be considered, such as CEA (carcinoembryonic antigen), CA 50 and CA 242, and the mucins MUC1, MUC2 and MUC5AC, but enzymes involved in the processing of glycoconjugates could also be involved. Our preliminary research shows that the activity of lysosomal exoglycosidases, including HEX (N-acetyl-β-D-hexosaminidase), GAL (β-D-galactosidase), FUC (α-L-fucosidase) and MAN (α-D-mannosidase), in serum and urine may be used in the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

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