A recent discovery by researchers funded by the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund (PCRF) could lead to a cheap, non-invasive test to detect early stages of pancreatic cancer in people who are in the high-risk category of developing this type of cancer.
The research team, from Queen Mary University of London’s Barts Cancer Institute, has discovered that when high levels of a combination of three proteins are found in urine samples, it is a positive indication of early-stage pancreatic cancer. This three-protein presence in the urine not only helps identify the early stages of the most common form of pancreatic cancer, but can also be used to differentiate this cancer from the inflammatory condition, chronic pancreatitis. Both of these conditions usually manifest similar symptoms and are often difficult to tell apart.
The full details of the study are study are published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.
Diagnosing pancreatic cancer in the early stages has been a huge challenge for clinicians as it does not manifest with early-stage symptoms. Pancreatic cancer is usually diagnosed in patients when the cancer is already at a terminal stage. The survival rate for diagnosis at the stage 2 phase is around 20percent and if the cancer is detected even earlier, (stage 1) the survival rate for patients with small tumors goes up by 60 percent. So if pancreatic cancer is to be controlled, it has to be nipped in the bud.
And that is exactly the purpose of this inexpensive, non-invasive treatment.
In the study, the researchers looked at 488 urine samples. Of those, 192 samples were from patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, 92 samples came from patients with chronic pancreatitis and 87 samples were from healthy volunteers. The remaining 117 samples were from patients diagnosed with other benign and malignant liver and gall bladder conditions. These last 117 samples were taken for further examination.
The researchers found more than 1500 proteins in the urine samples collectively. About 50percent of these proteins were common to both men and women. The team isolated three proteins form the proteins common to both sexes – LYVE1, REG1A and TFF1 – and subjected them to closer examination.
The results showed that the urine from patients with pancreatic cancer had increased levels of each of the three proteins. Urine samples from patients suffering with chronic pancreatitis had lower levels of these proteins. And the urine from healthy individuals had the least of these three proteins.
When the researchers mapped these findings they found that the combined presence of the three proteins formed a robust panel that can detect patients with stages 1-2 pancreatic cancer with over 90 percent accuracy.
The results suggest this is a biomarker panel with good specificity and sensitivity, and the team hopes that within the next few years, a simple, inexpensive test can be developed for clinical use.
According to Lead researcher, Dr. TatjanaCrnogorac-Jurcevic, the team has strived for a long time to develop a urine-based diagnostic test as a urine test has several advantages over a blood test. For one, urine is an inert and far less complex fluid than blood. Secondly, the tests can be done without any invasive methods. And last but not least, the tests can be done repeatedly without too much inconvenience.
The team is now hoping to conduct further tests on urine samples from people in high risk groups, to further validate the study findings. They also want to test samples of urine collected from volunteers over a period of 5-10 years. This will allow them to see if the three indicative proteins are present in the time between the genetic changes that will cause the cancer to develop and the clinical presentation. If they succeed here, it will be a huge boost in nipping pancreatic cancer in the bud.