Clinical Perspectives

Screening and Early Detection in Pancreatic Cancer Outcomes

August 06, 2019

Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is the third deadliest cancer in the United States with a five-year survival rate of approximately 9%. It is expected to become the second-leading cause of cancer death in the next year as disease incidences continue to increase. While most pancreatic cancer cases are diagnosed in late stage, the screening guidelines recommend against screening asymptomatic patients of average risk. 

The U.S. Preventive Services Task completed a review of the recommendations including various studies and clinical trials which reaffirmed the current guidelines. The review found very minimal benefit to screening and no evidence to suggest that screening-detected early-stage cases could result in improved outcomes. In fact, some evidence suggested that screening could result in false positives and potentially average harm to the patient.  

The recommendation was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. 

Dr Pamela Hodul
Dr. Pamela Hodul, Surgical Oncologist

“The recommendation does not apply to high-risk populations, such as those with family history of pancreatic cancer or those with certain inherited genetic syndromes,” said Moffitt Cancer Center

surgical oncologist Dr. Pamela Hodul. “Screening for those patients is still recommended, although the exact interval and mechanism by which they should be evaluated is not readily agreed upon.”

While pancreatic cancer can be detected by CT scans, MRIs and endoscopic ultrasounds, there are no reliable blood tests or radiographic imaging that can accurately predict pancreatic cancer. 
Risk factors for pancreatic cancer include diabetes, cigarette smoking, obesity and chronic pancreatitis. For those patients, Hodul says a low threshold for imaging should be in place if pre-existing conditions worsen or new symptoms like pain or jaundice develop.