Scientists have devised a new marker which could help to detect pancreatic cancer earlier.
Using a new light-scattering technique, the team of US researchers found evidence that pancreatic cancer causes subtle changes to the small intestine during its early stages.
The technique produces an 'optic fingerprint' from the altered tissue and then enhances the data to make diagnosis easier.
Scientists heralded the discovery as an important breakthrough, given the disease's lack of manifest symptoms.
Vadim Backman, co-author of the research, said: "We are excited about this technology because it enables sensing subtle changes in tissue that otherwise are undetectable by conventional microscopic examination."
The pancreas can become dangerously inflamed if examined directly, so it is not possible to routinely inspect high-risk patients using traditional methods.
This study extracted tissue from an area adjacent to the pancreas, which substantially reduced the risk of inflammation and other complications.
Cancer of the pancreas is most common among people in middle and old age. Some 63 per cent of cases diagnosed are in those aged over 70.