Tests Detect Pancreatic Cancer Earlier
Studies Show New Screening Techniques Could Improve Survival Rates
Blood Test Plus Ultrasound Detects Cancer
In a second study, researchers found that a combination of endoscopic
ultrasound and a blood test for a tumor marker called CA19-9 helped to detect
pancreatic cancer at an earlier stage in high-risk people.
So far, 272 people ages 50 to 80 with at least one first-degree relative who
had the disease have been screened with the combination in the ongoing
In addition to family history, "age is another factor we can use to target
people for screening," says researcher Richard Zubarik, MD, associate professor
of medicine and chief of endoscopy at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington,
Vt. More than 90% of people who develop pancreatic cancer are over age 50, he
CA 19-9 is often produced by pancreatic cancers, and its level is elevated
in more than 90% of pancreatic cancer patients. It's typically used to gauge
how well a treatment is working in those already diagnosed with pancreatic
The cost to detect one case of pancreatic cancer was just over $14,000, and
the cost to detect precancerous abnormal cell growth was about $11,000.
"If we use this protocol, we can detect cancer at an early stage," Zubarik
Heavy Drinking, Smoking Raises Pancreatic Cancer Risk
Also at the meeting, researchers reported that heavy smokers and drinkers
are at risk of developing the cancer much earlier than is typical.
The more tobacco and alcohol one consumes, the younger the age at which the
disease tends to strike, and beer drinkers may be at particularly high risk,
While previous studies have shown that smoking tobacco and drinking
alcohol are risk factors for pancreatic cancer, "we didn't know if risk
increased with dose," says Michelle A. Anderson, MD, assistant professor of
medicine at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
To find out, she and colleagues studied data on about 450 pancreatic cancer
patients enrolled in an international patient registry.
The study showed that "the more a person smoked or drank, the younger the
onset of the cancer, and that of the two, drinking has a worse effect,"
Among the findings:
- People who drank more than three drinks a day were diagnosed with
pancreatic cancer at an average age of 60 vs. 67.3 for teetotalers.
- Heavy smokers developed the cancer about two years earlier than people who
didn't smoke or drink: 64.9 years old vs. 66.7 years old. Heavy smokers were
defined as people who smoked 21 or more pack-years in a lifetime, or the
equivalent of at least one pack a day for 21 years.
- Beer drinkers tended to develop pancreatic cancer at an earlier age than
those who preferred wine or hard liquor. While the finding could have been due
to chance, Anderson tells WebMD that she believes that the link will hold up
when larger numbers of people are studied.
- The median age of onset for patients who drank only beer was 62.2 compared
with 68.2 for those drinking other types of alcohol.