UK scientists say they have identified three proteins present in urine which can act as an early warning sign of the disease.
A team at Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London, found that the three-protein “signature” signals the most common form of pancreatic cancer with more than 90% accuracy.
It will allow doctors to differentiate between the cancer and the inflammatory condition chronic pancreatitis, which can be very difficult.
Director of Barts Cancer Institute, Professor Nick Lemoine, said the findings could 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%, and at stage 1, the survival rate for patients with very small tumours can increase up to 60%,” he said.
The urine tests, which researchers say are simple and inexpensive, could be available within the next few years.
Lead researcher Dr Tatjana Crnogorac-Jurcevic said: “We’ve always been keen to develop a diagnostic test in urine as it has several advantages over using blood.
“It’s an inert and far less complex fluid than blood and can be repeatedly and non-invasively tested.
“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.”