Urine Test Allows Diagnosis Of Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer has the worst survival rates of the most common types of cancer with just 3% of patients who are diagnosed surviving 5 years or more. Incredibly, despite advances in our understanding of pancreatic cancer, this figure has not changed in the last 40 years. The primary reason for this is the low level of diagnosis at an early stage. 8 out of 10 people are only diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer once it has spread around their body thereby making the standard treatment of an operation to remove the tumour from the pancreas no longer an effective treatment option. Early symptoms can seem quite vague and vary from patient to patient depending on where on the pancreas the tumour has begun to grow. Visiting your GP complaining of stomach pain, weight loss and jaundice can be signs of a wide range of illnesses and not just pancreatic cancer. However, recent work by the Bart's Cancer Institute at the Queen Mary University of London has developed a "simple" urine test that through the detection of high concentrations of certain proteins can identify the early stages of pancreatic cancer as well as chronic pancreatitis. The trial used urine from 488 patients, including 117 with liver cancer or gallbladder problems. However, the test was able to distinguish between liver and pancreatic cancer providing a potentially easy and reliable early detection method.
Although this is a significant step forward, the Scientists behind the discovery admit further work needs to be done. Currently, they have been looking for the protein CA19-9 which is only produced by certain types of pancreatic tumours and not all. Their work revealed several more proteins that are found in higher concentrations in pancreatic cancer patients. However, the same was found of those with chronic pancreatitis, so currently the test is unable to discriminate between the two conditions, but does provide an indicator for further investigation and testing. The infrequency of pancreatic cancer within the wider population and the prohibitive cost and current limits on accuracy prevent this urine test being used across the population. The Scientists at Bart's Institute are now collecting long-term data from at risk groups, such as those with a family history to gather information about changes in proteins in the urine as pancreatic cancer develops in an attempt to refine the urine test and increase its accuracy. Hopefully, with more experimentation and continued trials the urine test will provide a quick and non-invasive method for the early detection and diagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer, although the Scientists involved are cautious to avoid raising false hope and emphasise this is just the first step on a long road ahead.

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