Breath test for pancreatic cancer may save thousands
A BREATH test to detect pancreatic cancer has been hailed as the ‘biggest breakthrough in 50 years’.
The cancer, which has claimed the lives of celebrities including Alan Rickman, Aretha Franklin and Patrick Swayze, is often caught late, with only 7 per cent of those diagnosed surviving for five years or longer.
But experts say thousands of lives a year could be saved by a breath test which detects molecules created by tumours.
The test, done on a breathalysertype device in a GP surgery, was developed by Imperial College London researchers. The study, the results of which were published in the British Journal of Surgery, saw 64 patients tested. The test picked up 81 per cent of those with pancreatic cancer.
Costing only around £10 per patient, the test will soon be trialled on 700 people. According to a ten-year study up to 2010, 91 per cent of people with pancreatic cancer made repeated GP visits with symptoms for at least two years before their diagnosis.
Dr Chris Macdonald, head of research at Pancreatic Cancer UK, which has invested more than £650,000 in the test, said: ‘The GP can’t refer everyone with vague symptoms linked to pancreatic cancer... because the vast majority of people with these symptoms won’t have pancreatic cancer, and the health service would be overwhelmed. But this cheap, quick breath test... could see people diagnosed far earlier, saving thousands of lives a year. It is the most important potential development for pancreatic cancer in the past 50 years – we really are on the cusp of a breakthrough.’
The test detects oesophageal cancer and is being worked on for bowel cancer. All these cancers could be tested for simultaneously using the same breathalyser.
The test could bring down the figure of 80 per cent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer receiving a terminal diagnosis.
Pancreatic cancer is diagnosed in almost 10,500 people a year in the UK. More than half of die within three months. Health minister Helen Whately said: ‘The earlier we catch cancer, the more likely we are to beat it. That’s why breath tests like these could be such an important breakthrough – helping thousands get a potentially life-saving early diagnosis.’