They say prevention is better than cure. In an ideal world this would be the best method to reduce mortality rates of all diseases. However, we live in a blissfully imperfect world where we get sick and depend on medication to relieve unwanted symptoms. For some conditions, like cancer, any therapy used is more effective if diagnosed early. Doctors have publicized early detection methods for a lot of illnesses. To detect a small lump in the breast, women are encouraged to perform self examinations as well as mammograms after a certain age. To detect small polyps in the colon, a colonoscopy is suggested. So what about pancreatic cancer? There must be an accurate screening test to determine this deadly disease, right?
The answer is a resounding no or at best not yet.
The only FDA approved non invasive test is the CA 19-9 test. Levels of this protein are known to be elevated in pancreatic cancer patients (state if its in blood). However, it is not sensitive enough to diagnose the disease at early stages. According to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, other methods to determine the presence of cancerous pancreatic tissue include CT scans, MRI and endoscopic ultrasound. But none of these methods detect early stage cancer. By the time these screens are done, the patient’s tumor has most likely spread to other areas in the body. Since surgery is the only current traditional action that can increase patient survival, improving early detection methods can literally be the deciding factor between life and death.