Early-warning pancreatic cancer test could save hundreds, say experts
A simple urine test that could help detect early-stage pancreatic cancer, potentially saving hundreds of lives, has been developed by scientists.
Researchers say they have identified three proteins which give an early warning of the disease, with more than 90% accuracy.
The discovery could lead to a non-invasive, inexpensive test to screen people at high risk of developing the disease.
A team at Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London, found that the three-protein "signature" can identify the most common form of pancreatic cancer when still in its early stages and distinguish between this cancer and the inflammatory condition chronic pancreatitis - which can be hard to tell apart.
Lead researcher Dr Tatjana Crnogorac-Jurcevic said: "We've always been keen to develop a diagnostic test in urine as it has several advantages over using blood.
"It's an inert and far less complex fluid than blood and can be repeatedly and non-invasively tested.
"This is a biomarker panel with good specificity and sensitivity and we're hopeful that a simple, inexpensive test can be developed and be in clinical use within the next few years."
The study, published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research, looked at 488 urine samples - 192 from patients known to have pancreatic cancer, 92 from patients with chronic pancreatitis and 87 from healthy volunteers.
A further 117 samples from patients with other benign and malignant liver and gall bladder conditions were also tested.
Of the 1500 proteins found in both men and women, three proteins - LYVE1, REG1A and TFF1 - were selected for closer examination, based on biological information and performance in statistical analysis.
Patients with pancreatic cancer were found to have increased levels of each of the three proteins, while patients suffering from chronic pancreatitis had significantly lower levels than cancer patients.
Co-author and director of Barts Cancer Institute, Professor Nick Lemoine, said the findings could make a "big difference" to survival rates.
He added: "With pancreatic cancer, patients are usually diagnosed when the cancer is already at a terminal stage, but if diagnosed at stage 2, the survival rate is 20%, and at stage 1, the survival rate for patients with very small tumours can increase up to 60%."
Founder and CEO of Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund, Maggie Blanks, said: "This is an exciting finding and we hope to see this research taken forward into a much-needed early diagnostic test.
"Early diagnosis is an important part of our overall efforts against this aggressive cancer, alongside developing new treatments to tackle the disease once diagnosis is made. It underlines the importance of increased research efforts to help improve survival rates."