About seven per cent of all cancer deaths are due to pancreatic cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. So it’s safe to say cancer screening strategies are needed. “The hopeful news is that there are new technologies emerging, such as molecular blood tests and other novel approaches, that could expand early detection efforts to these historically unscreened tumour types,” says gastroenterologist Dr David A. Ahlquist, and professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine.
The reason pancreatic cancer is so difficult to detect is because it’s internal, initially painless, and not generally connected to anything that would lead to symptoms. “The exception is if it happens to occur close to the bile duct, which leads to blockage and jaundice relatively early in the course of the disease,” explains surgical oncologist Dr Mark Faries. “Treatment in a fortunate minority is a very large operation, and in those whose cancer is detected later, treatment is largely based on chemotherapy and is temporarily relieving at most.”