Early pancreatic cancer detection could now be as easy as a urine test, according to scientists at the Barts Cancer Institute of Queen Mary University in London.
The team has discovered a three protein combination that can accurately detect early stage pancreatic cancer. This discovery could not only lead to a non-invasive and inexpensive way to screen for the disease, but it can help distinguish between cancer and chronic pancreatitis, the inflammatory condition that highly resembles pancreatic cancer.
Furthermore, this new finding could potentially save hundreds of lives.
“If this test proves to be as good as we hope, we could make an important difference and enable early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer completely noninvasively, using urine samples,” said lead researcher Dr. Tatjana Crnogorac-Jurcevic, a cancer expert at the Centre for Molecular Oncology at Barts.
“This is important since if this cancer is detected early, patients can undergo surgery, which greatly increases the survival. At present, patients are diagnosed with cancer that has already spread and survival is typically three to six months.”
The study was published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research and funded by the Pancreatic Research Institute. Researchers looked at 488 urine samples. One hundred and ninety-two of the samples were from patients with known pancreatic cancer, 92 of the samples were from those with chronic pancreatitis, and 87 were from healthy individuals.
One hundred and seventeen samples from patients with other liver and gallbladder conditions (both benign and malignant) were used in order to further validate the study.
Of the approximate 1,500 proteins found in the urine samples, three proteins – LYVE1, REG1A, and TFF1 – were selected for further examination.
Those patients with known pancreatic cancer have elevated levels of all three proteins in comparison to those of the healthy subjects, and those with chronic pancreatitis had significantly lower levels than those with pancreatic cancer.
Together, the three proteins form an important marker for detecting pancreatic cancer that has over 90 percent accuracy.
“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. 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.”
Professor Nick Lemoine, co-author of the study, stated that the results could make a “big difference” in pancreatic cancer survival rates.
“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 1, the survival rate for patients with very small tumours can increase up to 60 percent.”
Maggie Blanks, CEO of the Pancreatic Research Fund, 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.”
According to the National Cancer Institute, an estimated 48,960 new cases of pancreatic cancer are to be diagnosed by the end of 2015. Only 7.2 percent survived five years or more after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer from 2005-2011.
[Image via David Silverman / Getty Images]