London: A combination of three proteins found at high levels in urine can accurately detect early-stage pancreatic cancer, new research has found.
The discovery could lead to a non-invasive, inexpensive test to screen people at high risk of developing the disease.
"For a cancer with no early stage symptoms, it is a huge challenge to diagnose pancreatic cancer sooner, but if we can, then we can make a big difference to survival rates," said study co-author Nick Lemoine, director of Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London.
Although there is no universal cause of pancreatic cancer, people at higher risk of developing the disease include those with a family history of pancreatic cancer, heavy smokers, the obese and people over 50 years with new-onset diabetes.
The new test could also distinguish between this cancer and the inflammatory condition chronic pancreatitis.
The study 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 used for further validation.
When compared to urine samples from healthy patients, patients with pancreatic cancer were found to have increased levels of each of three proteins - - LYVE1, REG1A and TFF1.
Patients suffering from chronic pancreatitis also had significantly lower levels of these protein than cancer patients.
When combined, the three proteins formed a robust panel that can detect patients with early-stage pancreatic cancer with over 90 percent accuracy, the findings showed.
"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 percent, and at stage one the survival rate for patients with very small tumours can increase up to 60 percent," Lemoine pointed out.
The study was published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.