Preventing pancreatic cancer

Published On: Mar 11 2013 08:56:54 PM EDT
Updated On: Mar 12 2013 06:20:00 AM EDT

The American Cancer Society estimates 45,000 people will be diagnosed with it in 2013, and it will kill more than 38,000. The rates of pancreatic cancer have slowly increased in the past 10 years. The risk of developing it in your lifetime is about one in 78. Right now, researchers are working on ways to detect the killer before it forms.

“The number of people who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer every year is the same number, almost the same number as the people who die,” said Anne Marie Lennon, M.D., Ph.D., at Johns Hopkins University.

Chances of living five years after diagnosis are less than five percent, and most will die within the first year. That’s because pancreatic cancer can be difficult to detect. Patients usually have no symptoms until the cancer’s already spread. Now, researchers are focusing on early detection to try to stop it before it forms.

“We’re really excited about this,” said Lennon.

A recent study found up to 13 percent of patients who underwent an MRI had pancreatic cysts. Doctor Anne Marie Lennon says, they account for up to 20 percent of pancreatic cancers. Now, using endoscopic ultrasound, doctors get high-resolution images of the pancreas. If cysts are found, they are biopsied and the cyst fluid is analyzed to figure out if it’s cancerous.

“So we have the potential to intervene and try and prevent up to 20 percent of people with pancreatic cancer developing it,” explained Lennon.

Researchers are also working on a promising gene test that could predict if cysts have the potential to become cancerous. It’s currently being studied in a large clinical trial across the country.

African Americans have a higher risk of getting pancreatic cancer than whites. The Mayo Clinic warns other top risk factors include obesity, diabetes, smoking, and a family history of pancreatic cancer.

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