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Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis and Early Detection

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Early Detection of Pancreatic Cancer

Treating pancreatic cancer is challenging when it's discovered at an advanced stage, as is usually the case. Researchers are seeking methods of early detection, but so far none has proved useful. These methods include:

Blood tests. Certain substances, such as carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) and CA 19-9, are elevated in people with pancreatic cancer. However, blood tests don't allow for early detection of pancreatic cancer, because these levels may not rise until pancreatic cancer is advanced, if at all.

Endoscopic ultrasound. Some families have multiple members affected by pancreatic cancer. The American Cancer Society says that up to 10% of pancreatic cancers may be caused by inherited DNA changes. Studies are ongoing to see if aggressive screening with endoscopic ultrasound works for early detection of pancreatic cancer in healthy family members. Early results are promising. However, endoscopy is an invasive procedure, so its use is only justified in people already at high risk for pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Cancers

Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors arise from a separate group of hormone-producing cells in the pancreas. Like adenocarcinoma, islet cell cancers are generally diagnosed with imaging and biopsy. These types of tumors may cause no symptoms or symptoms related to hormones secreted by the tumor.  

 

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Reviewed by Sujana Movva, MD on March 27, 2014

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