Research has found a way to identify the most deadly type of cancer at a much earlier stage, potentially saving thousands of lives.

A simple test could identify the deadliest cancers sooner and save thousands of lives, a new study suggests.

Experts hailed an “exciting” breakthrough which means disease which is now only spotted when it is too late to treat could be spotted many years earlier.

Scientists from Barts Cancer Institute carried out tests on almost 500 patients.

They found that a particular “signature” of three proteins in the urine identified the most common form of pancreatic cancer, with 90 per cent accuracy.

Almost 9,000 people a year are diagnosed with the disease in the UK – and just three per cent survive five years.

Despite major advances treating other forms of cancer, survival rates for pancreatic cancer have barely changed in four decades.

There is currently no test to diagnose it early.Experts said the findings, published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research, could be used to create a simple inexpensive urine test to screen patients at risk of the disease.

When the cancer is found at an early stage, survival rates can be as high as 60 per cent, they said.

Pancreatic cancer is often called a “silent killer” because it can progress without clear symptoms.

More than 80 per cent of cases are diagnosed when cancer has spread, meaning it is too late for surgery to remove their tumour – the only curative treatment now available.

When there are signs of disease, they can be difficult to distinguish from a common inflammatory condition, chronic pancreatitis.

Lead researcher, Dr Tatjana Crnogorac-Jurcevic, said the research findings had been “worth the wait”.

“This is a biomarker panel with good specificity and sensitivity and we’re hopeful that a simple, inexpensive test can be developed and be in clinical use within the next few years,” she said.

Professor Nick Lemoine, co-author and Director of Barts Cancer Institute, said: “For a cancer with no early stage symptoms, it’s a huge challenge to diagnose pancreatic cancer sooner, but if we can, then we can make a big difference to survival rates,”.

“With pancreatic cancer, patients are usually diagnosed when the cancer is already at a terminal stage, but if diagnosed at stage 2, the survival rate is 20 per cent, and at stage 1, the survival rate for patients with very small tumours can increase up to 60 per cent.”

Maggie Blanks, chief executive of charity the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund said: “This is an exciting finding and we hope to see this research taken forward into a much needed early diagnostic test. Early diagnosis is an important part of our overall efforts against this aggressive cancer, alongside developing new treatments to tackle the disease once diagnosis is made.”

While there is no universal cause of pancreatic cancer, those who are obese, develop diabetes after the age of 50, and have a family history of the disease are at greatest risk.

The study examined 488 urine samples, including 192 from patients known to have pancreatic cancer, 92 from patients from chronic pancreatitis as well as samples from healthy patients and those with other conditions. An increase in three proteins – LYVE1, REG1A and TFF1 – identified stage I and stage II pancreatic cancer with over 90 per cent accuracy.

In 2014 the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence refused to fund a treatment which can extend lives among those with pancreatic cancer.

Source: The Telegraph

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