Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States and is usually diagnosed in advanced or metastatic stages. Unlike other cancers, such as breast and colorectal that use mammograms and colonoscopies, there are no standard pancreatic cancer screening tests.
Research teams in the HonorHealth Research Institute’s Early Detection Program are offering early detection testing to those who are at risk for pancreatic cancer with the goal of catching this cancer early.
“Pancreatic cancer, because of where the organ sits in the body — behind the stomach and next to the spine — is much more difficult to screen for,” said Erkut Borazanci, MD, program director. “As of today, we don’t have the same screening tests that we have for other cancer types, which is a big reason why survival rates are lower for pancreatic cancer.”
Diagnosing and treating pancreatic cancer is difficult because it often isn’t detected until the disease has progressed beyond the organ to other parts of the body.
Dr. Borazanci and his colleagues are working on the detection of pancreatic cancer in its early stages with the hope of improving long-term survival. With help from their partners in primary care and the Genetic Risk Assessment Program, researchers are identifying patients at average, moderate and high risk of developing pancreatic cancer and following them over time as part of a large study.
The study has two goals:
- To provide follow-up care to individuals identified as high risk for the disease. “What often happens is that these patients are identified as being at risk for pancreatic cancer, but are not followed in a consistent manner. We want to make sure that patients in this study are being monitored with the collaboration of a multidisciplinary team,” Dr. Borazanci said.
- Develop ways to detect pancreatic cancer early. “We want to develop better analytic tools to understand why someone gets the cancer and why someone doesn’t,” Dr. Borazanci said.
Information about patients in the study is entered into a database, but their personal information is masked. Researchers look for patterns in the data to better refine an individual’s risk for developing pancreatic cancer.
“The hope for the future is that we’ll be able to detect different types of cancers in the blood or even urine before we see them on traditional scans,” Dr. Borazanci said.
The model he’s using to monitor and detect early pancreatic cancer is expanding to other cancer types. An HonorHealth Research Institute colleague, Jasgit Sachdev, MD, is starting a similar study to follow patients at elevated risk for ovarian and breast cancers based on genetic and personal risk factors.
“We’d like to create a more comprehensive risk assessment that offers patients a better understanding of their overall cancer risk and a personalized plan for monitoring and reducing that risk,” Dr. Sachdev said.