Can Pancreatic Cancer Be Detected Early?

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most difficult cancers to treat and also a challenge to detect early. That’s why development of a new technique to screen for early development of pancreatic cancer is so exciting, as well as the fact that investigators who used the technique were able to identify the cancer 100% of the time in a small study.

Approximately 44,000 new cases of pancreatic cancer will be detected in 2012, according to the National Cancer Institute, and more than 37,000 people will lose their battle with the disease in that same year. A significant reason for the high death rate associated with pancreatic cancer is an inability to detect the cancer in its early stages.

The pancreas is difficult to reach and to visualize because of its location deep in the abdomen, so researchers at Mayo Clinic developed a screening technique for pancreatic cancer that involves passing a probe with an attached light into the small intestine, where it measures changes in the cells and blood vessels.

“No one ever thought you could detect pancreatic cancer in an area that is somewhat remote from the pancreas, but this study suggests it may be possible,” noted Michael Wallace, MD, chairman of the Division of Gastroenterology at Mayo Clinic in Florida. Wallace presented the findings at the International Digestive Disease Week 2012.

The technique, which is called Polarization Gating Spectroscopy, was tested on 19 individuals: 10 later determined to have pancreatic cancer and 9 who did not have the disease. The test successfully detected all 10 pancreatic cancers, although it was less accurate (63%) in identifying which of the healthy participants did not have pancreatic cancer. A much larger international clinical trial is being planned to further test the new screening technique.

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