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Pancreatic cancer – test gives hope

Scientists have developed a urine test that could help to detect a protein ‘signature’ linked to pancreatic cancer.

The study was published by Clinical Cancer Research (CCR), a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research. CCR’s focus is primarily to publish pioneering clinical and translational cancer research studies that bridge the laboratory and the clinic. According to an article on the BBC’s website, cancer charities have hailed the ‘much needed’ study.

Pancreatic cancer in the UK

Almost 9000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the UK each year. Over 80% of pancreatic cancer patients are not eligible for surgery to remove the tumour – currently the only prospective cure available. This is due to diagnosis often occurring once the disease has already spread. Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate (of the common cancers). Just three percent of patients survive for five years following diagnosis.

Heavy smokers, obese people, newly diagnosed diabetics over 50, and those with a family history of cancer are at a higher risk of developing the disease.

Pancreatic cancer – study and results

The Spanish and UK scientists who developed the test looked at nearly 500 urine samples. Almost 200 of which were from pancreatic cancer sufferers, 80 from healthy individuals, and 92 from patients with chronic pancreatic diseases. The remaining samples were made up of those with cancerous and benign conditions affecting the gall bladder or liver.

The level of three particular proteins was much higher in the urine of those with pancreatic cancer. This protein signature can help to determine whether the most common form of the disease is present. The article states that so far, the signature has proved to be 90% accurate.

Professor Nick Lemoine, of the Barts Cancer Institute, who co-authored the study, said:

“It’s really exciting because for the first time we might be able to
bring forward the window of opportunity for patients with
pancreatic cancer – from something that is advanced
and late stage to something that is early stage
and potentially curable by surgery.
“Patients are usually diagnosed when the cancer is already at a terminal
stage, but 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%.”

Fiona Osgun, Cancer Research UK, stated:

“At the moment, we’re a long way from knowing if this research could
lead to a test that would help detect pancreatic cancer at
an early stage, or who that test might benefit.

“But research like this is vital as there’s been little progress
in improving survival for pancreatic cancer, and
innovative approaches are needed.”

Scientists will now focus future research on individuals at greater genetic risk of pancreatic cancer.

Clinical Cancer Research

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