A breakthrough in the war against cancer could save hundreds of lives with a simple urine test.
Researchers say they have identified three proteins that give an early warning sign of pancreatic cancer – and they can be picked up with 90% accuracy through this simple screening method.
The three-protein ‘signature’ identifies the most common form of pancreatic cancer in its early stages, which is often hard to tell apart from the inflammatory condition, chronic pancreatitis. As identifying the disease in its earliest stages increases the chance of effective treatment, this discovery could lead to the simple, non-invasive and inexpensive test being used to identify people at high risk of developing it.
Up until now blood tests have been used instead, but the process is more complex and, of course, more invasive.
It was a team at Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London, who made the breakthrough. 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.
“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.
Over 1,500 proteins were found in both men and women in total, but patients with pancreatic cancer were found to have increased levels of each of three particular proteins – LYVE1, REG1A and TFF1 – 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 as the disease is usually diagnosed when it is already at terminal stage. “But,” he said, “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%.”