Screening for pancreatic cancer

There is no national screening programme for pancreatic cancer. But you may have tests if you are at high risk of developing it. This may be as part of a study.

What is screening?

Screening means testing people for early stages of a disease before they have any symptoms. For screening to be useful the tests:

  • need to be reliable at picking up cancers
  • overall must do more good than harm to people taking part
  • must be something that people are willing to do

Screening tests are not perfect and have some risks. The screening programme should also be good value for money for the NHS.

No national screening available

There is no national screening programme for pancreatic cancer because:

  • this type of cancer is relatively uncommon, so many people would have unnecessary tests
  • the benefits don't outweigh the costs

But people with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer may be able to have tests to look for signs of pancreatic cancer. Talk to your GP if you think you have a higher than average risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

Screening for people at high risk of pancreatic cancer

There are 3 main groups of people who have a high risk of pancreatic cancer. This is due to inherited conditions:

  • family history of pancreatic cancer
  • hereditary pancreatitis
  • hereditary syndromes that increase the risk of cancer, such as Peutz–Jeghers syndrome

It is not clear what the best way of monitoring people at high risk of pancreatic cancer is. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has recommended offering tests such as MRI or CT scans for these groups of people. But more research is needed. 

To get more evidence for pancreatic cancer screening, the EUROPAC study is looking at this for those at high risk. They want to see if tests help to pick up pancreatic cancer earlier. The tests you have in the study include:

  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • Endoscopic ultrasound
  • blood tests (to look for particular markers that may be a sign of pancreatic cancer)

The researchers may also take samples of pancreatic juice to look for gene changes. These changes may be a sign of pancreatic cancer that is too small to be seen on scans.

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