According to new research, pancreatic cancer could potentially be detected in patients sooner with a simple new test. Researchers from the UK and Spain have made a discovery which they think could lead to a cheap, non-invasive method of diagnosing patients early on.
The researchers discovered a protein which is only present in patients with pancreatic cancer, and can be detected with a basic urine test. They tested 500 urine samples, 200 of which were from patients with the disease, and were able to locate the protein ‘signature’ with a 90% accuracy rate.
In the UK, around 9,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year, but the disease is most often detected in the late stages when it is already terminal. This is because this particular type of cancer does not usually show symptoms in the first few stages. Currently, only 3% of patients are still alive five years after their diagnosis.
The new test could save thousands of lives by identifying the cancer before its late-stage symptoms have developed. If patients are diagnosed earlier, they can possibly be saved by surgery which prevents the disease from spreading. Patients diagnosed in the first stage of pancreatic cancer have a 60% chance of surviving.
“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,” says Professor Nick Lemoine, one of the study’s authors. “It’s really exciting because for the first time we might be able to bring forward the window of opportunity for patients with pancreatic cancer – from something that is advanced and late stage to something that is early stage and potentially curable by surgery.”
While the research gives hope that a much-needed early diagnostic test could be on the way, it is still at a very early stage. However, experts agree that the finding is an exciting one which could have a significant impact on the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer – an area in which there has been little progress for a long time. At the moment, further research is planned which will look at testing those who have a genetic predisposition for the disease.