Washington: Scientists have developed a new urine-based screening method to diagnose breast cancer and determine its severity even before it can be detected with a mammogram.
A Missouri University of Science and Technology researcher used a device called a P-scan, to detect the concentration of certain metabolites called pteredines in urine samples.
These biomarkers are present in the urine of all human beings, but abnormally high concentrations can signal the presence of cancer.
Dr Yinfa Ma, Curators` Teaching Professor of chemistry at Missouri S&T, believes the levels continue to rise as the cancer advances.
Ma has had good results in limited testing and is now expanding testing in a larger study to prove that the technique works.
This study is part of the validation process required by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to eventually make the P-Scan available in clinics across the country as an inexpensive, non-invasive test that could be used during routine physical examinations.
In April, Ma began a clinical trial with Mercy Breast Center and commercialisation partner Emergence BioScreening of St Louis.
The study focuses on 300 breast cancer patients and a control group of 100 individuals who have been clinically tested and found to be free of cancer. He hopes to conclude the study within a year.
This is a blind study, which means that Ma doesn`t know which samples he tests are those of cancer patients and which are from healthy individuals.
Using the P-scan, Ma will can detect the presence of cancer and its level of advancement - often before it could be detected on a mammogram.
"Mammogram technology is not sensitive. Some early cancer cannot be detected by a mammogram. If this P-Scan technology works, it will be much easier to incorporate into regular physical screening," Ma said.
"A patient donates urine and 10 minutes later I have a result. If this works, it will be an amazing diagnostic tool," Ma added.
The P-scan works by using a capillary to pass a small sample of urine into the device, separate different pteredine molecules and then pass the sample through a light source.
The researchers then use a spectrophotometer to identify and measure the pteredines in the sample.
Pteredines are normal metabolites that are present in the urine of all human beings. But when cancer is present, the levels rise.
Ma believes these markers are indicators of specific types of cancer and he hopes to prove that in future trials.
Once he and his team proves the technology works for breast cancer, they can begin to determine if studying pteredine levels in urine samples is an accurate way to detect and diagnose other types of cancers as well.