Imagine that your doctor just told you that you have a cyst on your pancreas. She informs you that the majority of cysts do not progress to cancer – which is a huge relief – but uncertainty remains whether your cyst will become cancerous.


C. Max Schmidt, MD, PhD, MBA, FACS

New research conducted by past Pancreatic Cancer Action Network grantee, C. Max Schmidt, MD, PhD, MBA, FACS, reports a novel test that can accurately identify a type of pancreatic cyst, called serous cystic neoplasm (SCN), which does not have the potential to progress to cancer.


According to the American Gastroenterological Association, the incidence of pancreatic cysts is on the rise – especially in older adults. In fact, cysts of the pancreas may occur in up to 25 percent of people over the age of 70.


The challenge for physicians is to determine which patients’ cysts have the highest probability to progress to cancer and require aggressive treatment.


“Surgically removing a high-risk pancreatic cyst can significantly enhance a patient’s survival, rather than allowing the cyst to progress to invasive disease,” explained Lynn Matrisian, PhD, MBA, chief science officer at the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. “On the other hand, performing unnecessary surgery when someone’s cyst has little or no likelihood of becoming malignant can come with great physical, financial and emotional cost.”


The study conducted by Schmidt and his colleagues at the Indiana University School of Medicine, published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, defines a two-biomarker test of cyst fluid that can accurately differentiate SCN cysts – providing confidence that the patient does not need to undergo surgery.


This research advancement highlights the importance of supporting the careers of young investigators. Schmidt was one of the first PanCAN grantees, receiving a Career Development Award in 2003, the year our Research Grants Program launched.


“I am very grateful for my early-career funding from the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network,” Schmidt told us. “I thank the donors, volunteers, advisors and staff for all their hard work directing more attention and critical funding to this disease.”


To learn more about types of pancreatic cysts and the diagnosis and treatment of them and tumors, please contact PanCAN Patient Services.