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Health Corner: Risk of Pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic Cancer: Knowing Your Risk

When it comes to pancreatic cancer, it is important to know your risk.

Middlesex Hospital offers pancreatic cancer screenings, and those who have a reasonable risk of pancreatic cancer based on their personal and family histories are most likely eligible for evaluation and testing. Most insurance companies will cover this as long as the testing is “appropriately justified.”

Pancreatic cancer starts when cells in the pancreas start to grow, and there are several types of pancreatic cancer, the most common being adenocarcinoma.

The American Cancer Society says that pancreatic cancer accounts for about 3 percent of all cancer in the United States and about 7 percent of all cancer deaths, and it estimates that 53,670 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the United States in 2017. That’s why being proactive is important. It is important to catch this cancer early!

What does a pancreatic cancer screening entail?

Today, secretin stimulation is used to help screen patients. This is a hormone given to increase secretion within the pancreatic gland, and it enhances the detail within the ducts and the connections between pancreatic cysts. Secretin stimulation, along with the use of an intravenous and oral contrast enhanced MRI, allows doctors to get a detailed and reliable view of the pancreas, says Dr. Nadeem Hussain, Middlesex Hospital chief of gastroenterology. Dr. Hussain says this is a technology that wasn’t available just a few years ago.

Sometimes, an endoscopic ultrasound is also used to evaluate the pancreatic gland. This tool involves passing an endoscope through the esophagus into the stomach and small intestine. An endoscopic ultrasound can help obtain samples of fluid and tissue at the time of evaluation, and it can complement the MRI and increase the odds of discovering and diagnosing lesions early.

In addition to viewing the actual organ, pancreatic cancer screenings also involve input from a genetic counselor. Genetic testing is important when you have a younger immediate family member who has pancreatic cancer or certain other cancers, especially if they are younger than 50. You may also be more at risk if you have two or three family members who have had cancer.

How can you prep for a pancreatic screening?

Listen to your health care provider’s instructions! Before an endoscopic ultrasound, do not eat after midnight. You may also need to adjust when you take your medications, including blood thinners and diabetic medications.

What happens after you are screened?

MRI and endoscopic ultrasound results are usually available within a week, while it can take, on average, about two to four weeks to receive genetic testing results. Once results are received, your doctor and genetic counselor will discuss them with you and determine any next steps.

For those who are willing, there are several ongoing clinical trials happening throughout the region, and you might be able to participate. Pancreatic juices are collected, and the goal is to discover tumor markers that “hint” at the development of pancreatic cancer before the cancer is detected by imaging.

To learn more about pancreatic cancer screenings, or to make an appointment, contact 860-347-4620.