Editor’s note: You may have heard earlier this week on our website and from other media sources that former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is being treated for pancreatic cancer. Some of the news reports touted a “routine screening” that allowed him to be diagnosed when the disease was in its earlier stages, making him eligible for surgery.
While we do not know the exact circumstances around Reid’s diagnosis, we wanted to share some information about screening programs and efforts underway to develop effective early detection strategies for pancreatic cancer.
There is currently no standard screening program or early detection test for pancreatic cancer. However, researchers across the country and throughout the world are working to discover clues that could help detect the disease earlier and to determine which people would benefit most from screening.
If you have two or more first-degree relatives who have had pancreatic cancer, a first-degree relative who developed pancreatic cancer before the age of 50, or an inherited genetic syndrome associated with pancreatic cancer, you may have an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) strongly recommends consulting with a genetic counselor to determine your risk and eligibility for a screening program.
Screening programs available today focus on various imaging techniques to improve earlier detection as well as the search for biomarkers, or biological clues, that can be found in blood, cyst or pancreatic fluid or other substances within the body.
In addition to individuals with a strong family history of the disease, more recent findings indicate that a significant subset of pancreatic cancer patients develop diabetes within one to three years prior to their cancer diagnosis – suggesting that new-onset diabetes in people over the age of 50 may be considered a symptom of pancreatic cancer. Work is being done, including projects funded by PanCAN, to uncover clues to identify people whose diabetes is caused by an undiagnosed pancreatic tumor.
Patients diagnosed when their pancreatic cancer is in its earlier stages have improved outcomes and increased access to treatment options, including surgery.
If you are concerned that you may be at risk to develop pancreatic cancer, our risk assessment test could help.