Scientists from the UK and Spain have developed a simple urine test that could detect pancreatic cancer much earlier than at present.
They found a protein “signature” only present in people with the disease.
Pancreatic cancer is often very advanced by the time it is diagnosed – and only 3% of patients are alive five years after diagnosis.
The disease has the lowest five-year survival rate of any common cancer and one that has barely improved in 40 years.
Those at higher risk include people with a family history of the cancer, heavy smokers, obese people and people over 50 who are newly diagnosed with diabetes.
The scientists who developed the test hope that if its early promise is realized then it could be possible to diagnose patients much earlier and offer them treatment.
The study, published in Clinical Cancer Research, looked at almost 500 urine samples. Just under 200 were from patients with pancreatic cancer, 92 from patients with chronic pancreatitis and 87 from healthy volunteers.
The rest of the samples were from patients with benign and cancerous liver and gall bladder conditions.
Out of 1,500 proteins found in the urine samples, three – LYVE1, REG1A and TFF1 – were seen to be at much higher levels in the pancreatic cancer patients, providing a “protein signature” that could identify the most common form of the disease.
The signature was found to be 90% accurate.
Patients with chronic pancreatitis were found to have lower levels of the same three proteins.
More research is now planned, and scientists will focus particularly on people whose genes put them at particular risk of pancreatic cancer.