Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Pancreatic Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Test May Help Spot Pancreatic Cancer

New Technique Uses Light to Check Cells Without Major Surgery
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 1, 2007 -- A new, no-surgery test may help detect pancreatic cancer in its earlier, more treatable stages, scientists announced today.

The test isn't ready for patients yet. But if successful in other studies, it may help people survive pancreatic cancer, which is America's fourth leading cause of cancer deaths.

The American Cancer Society predicts that this year in the U.S., about 37,170 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and about 33,370 will die of pancreatic cancer.

"One of the reasons for this grim prognosis for patients is that we still don't know how to detect it early enough," Northwestern University biomedical engineering professor Vadim Backman, PhD, said in a news conference today.

Early detection can make a big difference in survival, and Backman's team wants to improve patients' chances with their new test, which is described in today's edition of Clinical Cancer Research.

Pancreatic Cancer Theory

The scientists' theory boils down to this simple idea: When pancreatic cancer starts, there goes the neighborhood.

That is, pancreatic cancer is associated with subtle changes in neighboring cells in the duodenum, which is part of the small intestine.

Here's why that's important. Taking biopsies from the pancreas carries a high risk of complications. But the duodenum can be reached with a simple, nonsurgical procedure called an upper endoscopy.

In an upper endoscopy, doctors insert a thin tube into the sedated patient's mouth and guide the tube down the esophagus, through the stomach, and to the small intestine.

"It was, in a sense, a fishing expedition, because the pancreas and the duodenum are two different organs," Backman says. "There was a big question of if we would able to sense any differences in the otherwise normal duodenal tissue that would correlate with the presence of pancreatic cancer."

New Pancreatic Cancer Test

Backman's team gave upper endoscopies to 19 people who had already been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and to 32 people without pancreatic cancer.

The scientists took small tissue samples (biopsies) from each person's duodenum and examined those biopsies in their lab.

This was no ordinary lab test. The researchers used a bright light and a special microscope to check for optical markers -- essentially, a fingerprint -- linked to pancreatic cancer.

Today on WebMD

human pancreas
Do you know what they are?
man with a doctor
Our health check will steer you in the right direction.
sauteed cherry tomatoes
Fight cancer one plate at a time.
Lung cancer xray
See it in pictures, plus read the facts.
Integrative Medicine Cancer Quiz
Patrick Swayzes Widow Healing From Loss
Pets Improve Your Health
Resolved To Quit Smoking