Find out why there is no national screening programme for pancreatic cancer.
The need for an accurate test
Screening means testing people for the early stages of a disease before they have any symptoms.
Before screening can be carried out, doctors must have an accurate test. It must not give results that make it look as though someone has cancer when they do not.
At the moment, there is no screening test reliable enough to use for pancreatic cancer. Cancer of the pancreas is also a relatively uncommon disease.
It would cost a lot of money to screen everyone for a disease that only a few people get. So any screening test must be simple and cheap to perform.
Screening for people at a high risk
It is more cost effective to screen people thought to be at higher than average risk of pancreatic cancer.
EUROPAC is an organisation involved in researching pancreatic cancer. It runs a screening programme for people who may be at high risk.
Who has the screening
This screening is for people over 40 years old who have:
- hereditary pancreatitis (a rare inherited condition causing inflammation of the pancreas)
- a high incidence of pancreatic cancer in their family (familial pancreatic cancer)
- a family history of at least one person with pancreatic cancer, and have a linked cancer syndrome for example a BRCA2 gene fault (mutation)
On rare occasions people as young as 30 are considered for screening, depending on their family history.
What the screening involves
When you start the screening programme you have a blood test taken.
You then have a 3 yearly CT scan or endoluminal ultrasound test. The doctor takes a sample of your pancreatic juice which they examine for changes in 3 particular genes: K-Ras, p53 and p16.
If they find any changes in these genes, you have the tests yearly. If there are no gene changes, you continue to have the tests every 3 years.
This screening programme can't stop you getting pancreatic cancer. But it can help to diagnose it at an early stage when it is more likely to be curable.
Talk to your GP if you think you are at higher than average risk of pancreatic cancer.