Urine tests to improve the detection of adrenal cancer

Scientists led by the University of Birmingham, UK, have significantly improved the detection of adrenal cancer using a simple urine test.

Prior to this research, imaging technology has been used to detect masses on the adrenal gland. The discovery of an adrenal mass often leads to doctors conducting additional scans to determine whether the mass is cancerous. These scans have limited success in the detection of adrenal cancer as it is difficult to differentiate between cancerous and benign masses. Prognosis for patients with cancerous adrenal masses is poor, and a cure is only achievable through early detection and surgery.

Professor Wiebke Arlt, Director of the Institute of Metabolism and Systems Research at the University of Birmingham and senior author of the study said: “Introduction of this new testing approach into routine clinical practice will enable faster diagnosis for those with cancerous adrenal masses. We hope that the results of this study could lead to significant decreases in patient burden and a reduction in healthcare costs, by not only reducing the numbers of unnecessary surgeries for those with benign masses, but also limiting the number of imaging procedures that are required.”

Using urine to detect adrenal cancer

The multi-centre study, led by the University of Birmingham, has suggested that doctors can speed up the detection of adrenal cancer through the addition of urine steroid metabolomics in the form of a urine test, which detects the presence of excess adrenal steroid hormones.

Over the course of six years, the research team studied more than 2000 patients with newly diagnosed adrenal tumours from 14 centres of the European Network for the Study of Adrenal Tumours. Patients collected a urine sample after being diagnosed and the researchers then analysed the types and amounts of adrenal steroids in the urine, with results automatically analysed by a machine learning based computer algorithm. Results showed that the urine test made fewer mistakes than imaging tests, which more frequently incorrectly diagnosed adrenal cancer.

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