Pancreatic cancer screening, in its currently available forms, is not recommended for the general population. The goal of any screening test is to safely, accurately and cost-effectively diagnose cancer at a stage at which no symptoms are present so that a patient can take appropriate actions to address the condition. Research into potential screening methods is ongoing, but as of yet, no testing modality has proven to be reliable enough in meeting these criteria to warrant its widespread use in patients who do not have any symptoms.
With that said, pancreatic cancer screening is appropriate in certain cases. Specifically, screening might benefit patients who are at high risk for developing the condition, such as those with a strong family history of pancreatic or certain other cancers, or those who have chronic or hereditary pancreatitis. Here at Moffitt, we have a pancreatic cyst and high-risk clinic where we continue to follow these patients who may be at a heightened risk of developing pancreatic cancer. For such patients, one or more of the following diagnostic tests might be recommended:
- Computed tomography (CT) scan – An imaging test that can reveal the presence of suspicious lesions
- Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) – A minimally invasive imaging test that uses an endoscope (a thin, lighted tube) to evaluate the pancreas for signs of cancer; if suspicious lesions are present, a physician can obtain tissue samples during the same procedure and send them to a lab for further analysis
- Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) – A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test that focuses on the pancreas and bile duct
- Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) – A test that combines the use of endoscopes and X-rays to help a physician visualize the pancreas and biliary tree; biopsies can also be performed during ERCP
What Are the Early Warning Signs of Pancreatic Cancer?
It’s rare to diagnose pancreatic cancer early, as many of the early warning signs of this disease are vague and often chalked up to other conditions. It can be caught early if signs of the disease are shown on testing for an unrelated medical condition, or if the location of the tumor causes symptoms in the early stages. Here are some of the common warning signs:
- Abdominal or mid-back pain
- Changes in stool
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Recent onset diabetes
If you have any of the above symptoms for unexplained reasons, talk to your doctor about a pancreatic cancer screening.
Moffitt Cancer Center’s Approach to Pancreatic Cancer Screening
Even if a patient is predisposed to pancreatic cancer, not all of these pancreatic cancer screening tests are necessarily appropriate. Depending on a patient’s medical history and individual risk factors, a physician can recommend suitable testing at regular intervals. At Moffitt Cancer Center, screening recommendations are made by a multispecialty team of experts. This group meets weekly to collaboratively develop patient care plans. As such, our patients receive the benefit of multiple expert opinions in a single location.