Although relatively rare, pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death. By the time symptoms appear, the disease is usually too advanced to be treated effectively. The risk of developing this cancer increases if close relatives have been diagnosed. For people with three or more family members with the disease, the risk jumps to 40%.
But the earlier pancreatic cancer is detected, the more likely it is to remove it through surgery, the only possible treatment. Experts are therefore striving to make earlier diagnoses.
Who can benefit from regular pancreatic cancer screenings?
People who are at high risk for pancreatic cancer may benefit from screenings. High-risk individuals meet one of the following criteria:
– Having at least 2 relatives with pancreatic cancer, one of whom is a parent, sibling, or child.
– have Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, hereditary pancreatitis or a CDKN2A gene mutation
– have Lynch syndrome or mutations in the BRCA1, BRCA2, PALB2 and ATM genes, as well as a parent, brother, sister or child with pancreatic cancer.
People with a family history of pancreatic cancer may benefit from genetic testing to better understand their risk.
What happens during a screening?
Most doctors do an MRI and an endoscopic ultrasound (EES). During EES, your doctor takes pictures of your pancreas by passing a thin, flexible tube through your mouth and into your digestive tract.
When do the screenings start?
Most people considered high risk can start screenings at age 50, or 10 years earlier than their youngest relative with pancreatic cancer. People with specific genetic syndromes may start earlier. For example, experts recommend people with Peutz-Jeghers syndrome start at age 35.
How often do screenings take place?
In general, screenings take place once a year. Your doctor may do them more frequently if lesions are found or if you develop diabetes.
Screenings stop if:
– You are not physically able to undergo surgery
– your life expectancy is not affected by a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer
You want to stop screening
What happens if a doctor finds abnormal results during a screening? Your doctor will discuss your options with you. Although many people learn they have pancreatic damage during screenings, less than 1% of them will be considered high risk.
In some cases, surgery may be recommended. In other cases, you may be tracked more often.
What are the risks of screening?
The risks are minimal. They understand :
– A low risk of injury from needles, biopsy or anesthesia.
– unnecessary surgery due to unclear or false positive screening results
– anxiety related to the regularity of screening.
If you are at high risk for pancreatic cancer, talk to your doctor about the benefits of ongoing monitoring. Choosing to get tested and making decisions about test results are personal choices that most people make with their family and doctor.
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