A lot of us have been familiar with a take-home urine test when we suspect we’re pregnant – and some of us have undergone a urine test at work – but how would we feel about a pee test for breast cancer? Thanks to a medical company in Japan, that prospect could be a reality over the next decade.
The engineering and IT corporation Hitachi might be best known in the UK for their home electrical equipment, but in actual fact, they’re a highly diversified company with their fingers in many pies, including medical equipment. And now, two years after developing a prototype for the basic technology to detect breast and colon cancer from urine samples, they have announced a new round of tests with 250 new samples, in an attempt to see if batches at room temperature would be fit for analysis.
Breast cancer testing: quicker, more accurate, cheaper?
Unsurprisingly, Hitachi spokesperson Chiharu Odaira is very positive about this development, spelling out the benefits of this method of testing. “If this method is put to practical use, it will be a lot easier for people to get a cancer test, as there will be no need to go to a medical organisation for a blood test,” he said. Not only that, but it would be a boon in detecting paediatric cancers, pointing out that it would be especially beneficial in testing for needle-phobic kids.
As we know, the most common diagnostic method for the detection of breast cancer consists of a mammogram, which is followed by a biopsy if a risk is detected. Hitachi’s proposed method focuses on the detection of waste materials inside urine samples which act as a ‘biomarker’—in other words, a naturally occurring substance by which a particular disease can be identified.
Does it hold water?
If the new test – which commences in September, in collaboration with Nagoya University – goes well, it’s fair to say that this will have a massively positive effect on early detections and the saving of lives, not to mention a huge boost to social and medical budgets.
Remember: the earlier cancer is detected, the better chance a carrier has of surviving it, meaning that more than a few experts are getting very excited about this development. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that this is the first experiment of its kind in medical history, and urine-based cancer detection is, for want of a better word, essentially uncharted waters.
But when you combine this news with the report which was published earlier this year – about a new blood test which has ‘shown promise’ towards detecting eight different kinds of tumours before they spread elsewhere in the body – and it’s clear that we could be on the verge of a wave of breakthroughs in the field of cancer detection.
Hitachi claims that if their suspicions about the effectiveness of their urine test are correct a product will be rolled out over the next decade that would effectively be a huge step towards improved and earlier cancer detection.