Researchers have devised an app which can detect early signs of pancreatic cancer.
Scientists at the University of Washington are in the process of developing an app – called BiliScreen – that allows people to use their phone to screen themselves for the deadly condition.
Pancreatic cancer currently has one of the worst outlooks.
Survival rates of ten years or more are less than one per cent, according to Cancer Research UK.
One of the reasons is because there are often no obvious symptoms or non-invasive screening tools to identify a tumour before it spreads.
The new app works by asking people to take a ‘selfie’ with their smartphone.
It then uses computer algorithms and machine learning tools to detect increased bilirubin levels in a person’s sclera – the white part of the eye.
This is because one of the earliest symptoms of the cancer is jaundice, a yellow discolouration of the skin and eyes caused by a build-up of bilirubin in the blood.
The app could detect signs of jaundice even when bilirubin levels are minimally elevated and invisible to the naked eye.
Additionally, the whites of the eyes are more sensitive than skin to changes in bilirubin levels.
In the study, researchers looked at 70 participants and used the technology to correctly identify cases 89.7 per cent of the time compared to a blood test currently used.
“The problem with pancreatic cancer is that by the time you’re symptomatic, it’s frequently too late,” said Alex Mariakakis, lead study author and a doctoral student at the University of Washington.
“The hope is that if people can do this simple test once a month—in the privacy of their own homes—some might catch the disease early enough to undergo treatment that could save their lives.”
The blood test currently available to diagnose pancreatic cancer is only accessible via a health care professional and is not convenient for frequent screening.
Researchers believe that BiliScreen is an easy, non-invasive tool that could indicate whether someone should see a doctor.
Monitoring the eyes could also help diagnose hepatitis and Gilbert’s syndrome.