Pancreatic cancer has the lowest five-year survival rate of all cancers. Currently, there is no existing early diagnostic test for pancreatic cancer. British researchers have revealed that a combination of three proteins appears to be a good indicator of early stage pancreatic cancer when found in high levels in urine. These findings hold promise for developing an inexpensive, non-invasive test to detect the disease before it can spread.
Lead researcher Tatjana Crnogorac-Jurcevic said, "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."
The research team at Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University in London, found that they could identify stage I-II pancreatic cancer with 90% accuracy by the presence of high levels of three proteins- LYVE1, REG1A and TFF1 in urine. The researchers studied urine samples taken from patients known to have pancreatic cancer; another patient group known to have chronic pancreatitis, which can be hard to distinguish from cancer of the pancreas; and a third group of healthy patients. Urine samples from patients with other diseases were also used for comparison.
The study said, "Patients with pancreatic cancer were found to have increased levels of each of the three proteins when compared to urine samples from healthy patients, while patients suffering from chronic pancreatitis had significantly lower levels than cancer patients." The research team now hopes to do tests on people in high risk groups, and to collect urine samples from volunteers over a five to ten year period to see if the three-biomarker signature is also present during the period in which the cancer is latent but has not yet developed.
Nick Lemoine, study co-author and director of Barts Cancer Institute, said, "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. With pancreatic cancer, patients are usually diagnosed when the cancer is already at a terminal stage, but if diagnosed at stage two, the survival rate is 20%, and at stage one, the survival rate for patients with very small tumors can increase up to 60%."
The findings are published in Clinical Cancer Research.