What are the warning signs of pancreatic cancer? Is there a test that can diagnose it before symptoms appear? And, is there any way to prevent it?

We turned to Yale pancreatic cancer expert Ronald Salem, M.D., professor of surgery and section chief of surgical oncology at Yale School of Medicine.  He writes: 

“Despite the many advances in cancer therapy, pancreas cancer remains one of the most difficult cancers to treat. In part this is due to the lack of early warning signs and the difficulty in detecting the condition early. Certain individuals, however, are at increased risk of developing this cancer, and careful screening of this population may allow the cancer to be picked up at an early stage.

“People who have a strong family history of cancer, a history of certain genetic disorders such as the BRCA2 population with breast cancer, for example, have a higher risk of developing pancreas cancer. Heightened attention to vague abdominal symptoms with appropriate radiological evaluation (as necessary) may help identify the condition earlier.

“Individuals who are found to have abnormal liver function tests during routine blood work need to be evaluated further. An increasing number of individuals are being found to have cysts of the pancreas during evaluation for other disorders, and while many of these have no cancer potential, some have the propensity to transform into pancreas cancer. These individuals need to be evaluated by an expert team to determine if intervention is necessary prior to the development of cancer.

“CT scans, MRI and endoscopic ultrasound are the best radiologic tests available to evaluate the pancreas. Often these tests will pick up pancreas abnormalities long before the development of clinical symptoms, allowing intervention to be carried out at an earlier stage.”

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