Exciting developments in the treatment and diagnosis of pancreatic cancer has given new hope to scientists and cancer charities.


The team of scientists from the UK and Spain who have been working on ways to detect pancreatic cancer at an earlier stage have discovered that a simple urine test could play a vital part in diagnosing the disease.


At present, pancreatic cancer has very low survival rates. Of the 9,000 people who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year in the UK, only 3% are alive after 5 years of their initial diagnosis – the lowest percentage of all common cancers. This is due in part to pancreatic cancer being very difficult to diagnose. By the time it is picked up, it is often in the advanced stages and so more difficult to treat. The only form of treatment is to remove the tumour, but currently in more than 80% of patients, doctors find that the cancer has already spread.


Those who are particularly susceptible to developing pancreatic cancer include smokers, those who are over 50 and have recently developed diabetes, and those who are obese.


The new urine test is able to detect a particular protein “signature” only present in people with the disease. The news is much welcome, since there have been very few developments in the treatment of pancreatic cancer in 40 years. The urine test should assist in helping to diagnose the disease at a much earlier stage and open up more treatment possibilities. At present, those who are diagnosed at stage one are 40% more likely to survive than those who are diagnosed at stage two.


The research conducted so far into the new urine test looked at 500 urine samples – 200 from pancreatic cancer patients, 92 with chronic pancreatitis and 87 from healthy people. The remaining samples came from a mixture of patients with benign and cancerous liver and gall bladder conditions.


As scientists tested the urine, they came across 1,500 different types of proteins. Of all these, three were present at much higher levels in pancreatic patients. The combination of the three proteins present together provide what scientists term a “signature” which acts as an indicator of the presence of cancer. In contrast, patients who suffered from chronic pancreatitis were found to have lower levels of the protein signature. This signature has so far proven to be 90% accurate, which is significant.


However, the scientists are stressing that the research must now move into the clinical trial stage before any firm conclusions can be made, including what sort of patients the test is most likely to benefit. They also plan to focus their research more towards the genetic correlation.


For more information about pancreatic cancer, you can visit NHS Choices. If you or a family member has been affected by the illness, you can contact Pancreatic Cancer UK for help and support.