Of all the different forms of cancer, pancreatic cancer has one of the lowest five-year survival rates.
This is in part due to the fact that it is very difficult to detect pancreatic cancer until the cancer has already spread, making many patients with the disease ineligible for surgery to remove the tumor.
But now, a discovery from the Barts Cancer Institute at Queen Mary University of London may have given doctors an easy, affordable way to detect pancreatic cancer in the early stages.
A three-protein “signature” found in urine, the researchers say, is an easily-detected early symptom of the disease.
Not only that, but the combination of proteins can also distinguish the early stages of pancreatic cancer from the inflammatory condition pancreatitis, which is difficult to tell apart.
Published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research, the study was funded by UK charity the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund. The study analyzed the proteins found in nearly 500 urine samples.
The patients with pancreatic cancer exhibited increased levels of three specific proteins in their urine, which, when combined, formed a robust panel which can help doctors detect early-stage pancreatic cancer with over 90 percent accuracy.(1)
The Advantages Of a Urine Test
“We’ve always been keen to develop a diagnostic test in urine as it has several advantages over using blood,” said lead researcher Dr. Tatjana Crnogorac-Jurcevic in a press release(2).
“It’s an inert and far less complex fluid than blood and can be repeatedly and non-invasively tested. It took a while to secure proof of principle funding in 2008 to look at biomarkers in urine, but it’s been worth the wait for these results. 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.”
Testing Those At Risk
While there is no one universal cause for pancreatic cancer, people with a family history of the disease, heavy smokers, and elderly individuals with new-onset diabetes are at an elevated risk for developing it. The next step for researchers is to conduct tests on urine samples from people in high-risk groups. These tests should further validate the study’s findings.
“For a cancer with no early stage symptoms, it’s a huge challenge to diagnose pancreatic cancer sooner, but if we can, then we can make a big difference to survival rates,” said study co-author Nick Lemoine.
“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 percent, and at stage one, the survival rate for patients with very small tumors can increase up to 60 percent.”