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Pancreatic cancer screening

Men and women discussing pancreatic cancer

This page is about the current situation regarding screening for pancreatic cancer. There is information on

 

The need for an accurate test

Screening means testing people for the early stages of a disease before they have any symptoms. Before screening for any type of cancer can be carried out, doctors must have an accurate test. The test must be reliable in picking up cancers that are there. And it must not give false positive results in people who do not have cancer.

At the moment, there is no screening test reliable enough to use for pancreatic cancer in people at average risk. 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 of getting pancreatic cancer

It is more cost effective to screen people thought to be at higher than average risk of pancreatic cancer. But first we must be able to identify all those who are at higher risk. EUROPAC is an organisation involved in researching pancreatic cancer. They are running a screening programme for people who may be at high risk of developing it. This screening is for people over 40 years old who have

If you are in one of these groups you have a 3 yearly CT scan or endoluminal ultrasound test. You will also have an ERCP. During this procedure, the doctor will take a sample of your pancreatic juice. The researchers examine this for changes in 3 particular genes (the genes are called 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 cannot stop you getting pancreatic cancer. But the aim is to diagnose the disease at an early stage when it is easier to treat and is more likely to be curable. It is also part of a research programme that is trying to improve the genetic tests available for cancer of the pancreas.

EUROPAC run a register of families at high risk of pancreatic cancer. This is part of their research to identify faulty genes that increase risk of cancer of the pancreas. High risk families fill in a questionnaire and have blood samples taken when they join the register. If you think your family may be at risk, talk to your own doctor. He or she can put you in touch with the EUROPAC office.

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Updated: 6 December 2012