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Pancreatic Cancer Screenings and Exams

For many diseases, regular screening makes sense. But — because pancreatic cancer often has no noticeable symptoms — screening is vital for people with major risk factors.

By taking action early, we have the chance to detect signs that cancer may be growing.

Early intervention leads to more timely treatment. And — because early-stage cancers are easier to treat — this early intervention can lead to better outcomes.

UPMC Hillman Cancer Center provides screening and other exams.

You should consider pancreatic cancer screening if you:

  • Have a family history of pancreatic cancer.
  • Are a man over the age of 55.
  • Have diabetes and are over the age of 50.

Genetic risk factors for pancreatic cancer include a variety of inherited conditions and genetic syndromes.

If your doctor suspects that you may have one of the following conditions — or if your family members carry the genetic mutations that cause these conditions — you should have a screening for pancreatic cancer:

  • Breast-ovarian cancer syndrome
  • Familial atypical multiple mole melanoma syndrome
  • Hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer
  • Hereditary pancreatitis
  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome
  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 syndrome
  • Peutz-Jeghers syndrome
  • von Hippel-Lindau syndrome

Personal risk factors can include:

  • Pancreatitis
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Smoking

Changing your habits can sometimes help reduce or eliminate these personal risk factors.

Pancreatic cancer is hard to detect early, but doctors can use endoscopic ultrasounds or MRIs to find treatable cancers in people with:

  • A family history of pancreatic cancer.
  • A known genetic condition linked to pancreatic cancer.

You can consult with a genetic counselor about your eligibility for a screening test if you have a family history of pancreatic cancer.

Screenings and diagnostic tests may include:

  • CT scan — this imaging exam combines x-rays with computer technology to produce detailed pictures. You may need a shot with dye to make the pictures easier to study.
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) — ERCP combines upper gastrointestinal endoscopy with x-rays to view the pancreatic ducts. This is also a treatment method for pancreatic cancer in some cases.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) — in EUS, a doctor attaches an ultrasound device to an endoscope to obtain images from inside the body.
  • MRI scan — MRI uses a strong magnet and radio waves to create pictures of structures inside the body.
  • Needle biopsy — in this test, the doctor passes either a fine or wide needle through the skin and into the pancreas. He or she will use CT guidance to get a sample of the tumor for testing. You will have anesthesia during this minimally invasive procedure.
  • Physical exam — the doctor will check your body, feel for unusual lumps, and ask you about your medical and family history.
  • PET scan — PET creates an image that reflects your body’s biochemical activity. It uses a low level of radiation and a small amount of radioactive dye.
  • Tumor marker tests — an excess amount of a certain protein can suggest the presence of a tumor. Unusual patterns of gene expression can also mean that a tumor is present.
  • Ultrasound — this imaging test measures the echoes of high-frequency sound waves as they bounce off structures of the body.

Abnormal results on imaging exams require careful follow-up.

Contact Us About Pancreatic Cancer Care

To learn more about pancreatic cancer care or to make an appointment, you can:

Importance of Cancer Screenings

Q&A: What Is the Importance of Cancer Screenings?

Dr. David Seastone sat down for a quick Q&A about the importance of cancer screenings.

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