Take Charge

Should You Be Screened for Pancreatic Cancer?

August 06, 2019

Pancreatic Screening

By Sara Bondell

Pancreatic cancer is the third deadliest cancer among men and women in the United States. And with incidence of the disease increasing, it is believed it will soon become the second-leading cause of cancer death.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently reviewed the benefits and harms of screening for pancreatic cancer to determine if screening guidelines updates were needed. The task force reaffirmed the current guidelines and recommends against screening for pancreatic cancer in the general population, especially those without symptoms. There is no evidence to suggest that screening-detected early-stage cases are any less lethal than cases detected later, and therefore the benefits of screening for the disease are small and can lead to false-positive results.

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

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.