Terminal cancer patients could soon be offered a simple and accurate diagnosis of how much time they have left to spend with loved ones.
Scientists have developed a technique based on factors such as breathing, pulse rate, weight loss and blood cell count which they hope to incorporate into a hand-held device.
It would enable sufferers to plan the final stages of their life, dedicating time for travel, making will arrangements and saying goodbye to those close to them.
Doctors currently find it difficult to know how long patients have left to live because cancer can advance more quickly in some people than others, reports the Daily Mail .
Sometimes they are too optimistic and tell patients they will survive several months, after which their condition rapidly deteriorates and they die within a few weeks.
But researchers at St George`s Hospital in London and Manchester University have devised a technique to work out life expectancy based on a patient`s breathing, pulse rate, weight loss, appetite and red and white blood cell count.
They have developed a computer model which takes into account all of these factors and gives an accurate estimate of how long the sufferer has left.
The scientists presented their findings at the National Cancer Research Institute Conference in Liverpool, Britain.
Professor Chris Todd from the University of Manchester said: "This technique would help patients decide when and whether they would need hospice care or need to arrange having support at home."
The researchers studied 1,000 terminally ill cancer patients to find the most important factors indicating how long they had to live.