#PancChat is a monthly Twitter event for the pancreatic cancer community, hosted by Let’s Win, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and Lustgarten Foundation, designed to increase engagement on a variety of important topics for patients, caregivers, researchers and healthcare providers. This article is based on the questions and answers from the September 19, 2017 PancChat. Read the entire chat.

There is currently no standard diagnostic tool or established early detection method for pancreatic cancer. Diagnosing pancreatic cancer in time for surgery can increase a patient’s survival by about ten-fold, but most pancreatic cancer is diagnosed too late for surgery. Therefore, ways to detect pancreatic cancer in the earliest stages are urgently needed. Here are a few things to know about early detection for pancreatic cancer.

Why is pancreatic cancer so difficult to detect early?

The pancreas is located deep in the abdomen, so it is difficult for a doctor to see or feel the tumor during a physical exam. Additionally, pancreatic cancer symptoms are not always obvious and usually develop gradually.

Another big challenge to early detection is determining whom to screen while avoiding medical, emotional and financial problems created by widespread screening.

What classifies someone as being at high risk for developing pancreatic cancer?

If you have two or more first-degree relatives who have had pancreatic cancer, a first-degree relative who developed pancreatic cancer before the age of 50, or an inherited genetic syndrome associated with pancreatic cancer, you may have an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Longstanding diabetes can also be a risk factor. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network strongly recommends consulting with a genetic counselor to determine your risk and eligibility for a screening program. Contact Patient Central to learn more about risk factors and screening program eligibility.

What research is being done to find an early detection method for the disease?

There are many promising pancreatic cancer early detection projects underway, including research funded by Pancreatic Cancer Action Network grants. Researchers are looking for biomarkers, or measurable clues, in blood or fluid in the pancreas or cysts to detect early pancreatic cancer. Studies are also looking at people with new-onset diabetes to identify potential biomarkers or imaging techniques, as about 1 percent of this population has pancreatic cancer.

Are there any early detection clinical trials that are enrolling patients?

There are currently about 15 surveillance studies throughout the country that enroll high-risk individuals. In these programs, doctors actively monitor participants with imaging tests to detect changes in the pancreas. Patient Central can help provide more information about these studies.

For more information about risk factors and early detection as well as resources and information to help patients and caregivers cope with all aspects of a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, contact Patient Central.

Did you like this post? We recently participated in a Twitter chat on this topic, and there was great discussion with additional information.