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Pancreatic Cancer Screenings for High-Risk Patients

Through advances in diagnostic screening, The Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine is now offering pancreatic cancer screening for people at high risk for the disease.

This screening program is important because the people who can get cured of pancreatic cancer are those in whom it’s found early and surgery is successful at removing the entire tumor,” says Washington University gastroenterologist Dayna S. Early, MD.

The screening program involves two tests: endoscopic ultrasound and magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP), an MRI alternative to visualize the pancreas, biliary tract and pancreatic ducts. Screening is encouraged for patients at high risk for pancreatic cancer and is not recommended for the general population.

“If we find abnormalities that we are concerned could be pre-cancerous, we then refer them to surgeons or medical oncologists,” Early says. “We also offer genetic counseling to all individuals who come into the program.”

For those patients who are candidates for surgery, procedures such as the Whipple procedure have improved survival rates greatly over the past few years. For example, David C. Linehan, MD, and other Washington University physicians published in the August 2008 Annals of Surgery results of a clinical study finding patients who undergo the Whipple procedure in conjunction with other treatments showed improved outcomes.

Mortality for the procedure has gone from 15 percent 25 years ago to about 1 percent today if done at a high-volume center such as The Siteman Cancer Center, where approximately 110 surgeries are performed annually. Still, early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer remains key, and that’s why screening high-risk patients should prove beneficial.

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