Mortality rates for pancreatic cancer diagnoses rank among the worst of all diseases due to late stage detection. While more effective treatment therapies are always under investigation, the pancreatic cancer care experts at Mary Bird Perkins – Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center are attempting to improve these statistics with a new high-risk pancreatic cancer screening program.
Most pancreatic cancers are identified late, which often makes the disease inoperable and incurable. In Louisiana, 900 new pancreatic cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed this year and approximately 700 people will die of the disease.
The Cancer Center’s Hepatobiliary Multidisciplinary Cancer Care Team--consisting of surgeons, gastroenterologist, medical and radiation oncologists, pathologists, and geneticists--developed this first of its kind high-risk pancreatic cancer screening program in the state, created specifically for individuals with a risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
“While there is still much research to be done on preventing pancreatic cancer development, the next best thing we can do is detect it at an earlier stage where there is a better chance for a cure,” said John Lyons, MD, surgical oncologist and chair of the Cancer Center’s Hepatobiliary Multidisciplinary Cancer Care Team. “There are subgroups of patients who are known to have a higher risk either because of genetic mutations or family history. Our goal is to identify people with the highest risk of developing pancreatic cancer and enroll them into our program, allowing us to personalize a prevention and screening plan based on their risk factors.”
In addition to those with inherited genetic mutations and those with a family history, other predispositions include certain types of pancreatic cysts or certain types of inflammatory conditions of the organ.
Pancreatic cancer can develop from two kinds of cells in the pancreas--exocrine cells that produce enzymes to aid in digestion and neuroendrocrine cells that make and release hormones that control bodily functions. Exorcine is most common and is typically more aggressive. Currently, surgery is the only potential curative option, but because the vast majority of patients are diagnosed late in the disease process, surgery is viable for a small percentage of patients. However, through the high-risk screening clinic, physicians can catch the disease before symptoms appear and the disease has spread.
Early detection tools consist of bloodwork, genetic testing, an MRI of the abdomen, and an endoscopic ultrasound. How these tests are used and the frequency in which they are administered are based on individual risk and need. Patients who are not diagnosed with pancreatic cancer will be place into surveillance to monitor any changes.
Individuals who believe they may fit the criteria of the Cancer Center’s high-risk pancreatic program may call (225) 769-5656 or visit marybirdlake/pancreas.