Risk Factors for Pancreatic Cancer

By Abhitabh Patil, MD

Do you know of friend or family member who has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer? Are you concerned that you may be at risk?

While pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States, the risk for pancreatic cancer is low among the general population. Below are some of the most common questions patients ask about pancreatic cancer. For individuals who are at increased risk, screening is available. Pancreatic cancer is most curable when it is detected early.

What are the risk factors for pancreatic cancer?

There are a number of risk factors for pancreatic cancer, which may include:

  • Family history of pancreas cancer. Family history means you have either: a) a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at an early age (younger than 60 years old); b) two first-degree relatives diagnosed with pancreatic cancer; c) two second-degree relatives (aunt/uncle, grandparent, cousins) with pancreatic cancer, one of which occurred at an early age (younger than 60 years old).
  • Certain hereditary conditions, including: Hereditary pancreatitis, multiple endocrine neoplasia type I syndrome, hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC or Lynch Syndrome), von Hippel-Lindau syndrome, ataxia-telangiectasia, familial atypical multiple mole melanoma syndrome (FAMMM), BRCA2, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, cystic fibrosis
  • If you use tobacco products, have newly diagnosed diabetes or have been diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis, you should speak with your doctor about getting screened for pancreatic cancer.

What are the symptoms for pancreatic cancer?

Within the early stages of pancreatic cancer, there are often no symptoms.  Symptoms often appear as the disease progresses, which may include jaundice, weight loss, abdominal pain, and back pain.

Should I be screened for pancreatic cancer?

Screening is not recommended for the general public because the incidence of pancreatic cancer overall remains very low in the United States. However, for certain individuals with risk factors for the development of pancreas cancer, screening seems to be a reasonable approach. The decision for screening should be made on an individual basis.

What kind of pancreatic screening services are offered at Rush?

Rush University Medical Center currently offers a comprehensive screening program for pancreatic cancer. Our pancreas cancer screening team consists of interventional gastroenterologists, pancreatic surgeons, oncologists, genetic counselors, and radiologists.

Our facilities are equipped to perform pancreatic CT scans, MRI/MRCP, endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) with or without fine needle aspiration (FNA), endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) and PET scans. We also perform lab testing for several tumor markers used in detecting pancreas cancer.

What is detected during a pancreatic cancer screening?

CT scans, MRIs and EUS are used to examine for possible masses within the pancreas, which might suggest a cancer. If an abnormality is identified, a biopsy can be performed of the mass to confirm whether or not cancer is present. Additional testing of the blood or biopsy sample can also be performed accordingly.

How do I make an appointment for pancreatic cancer screening?

To make an appointment to discuss your risk and get screened for pancreatic cancer, please call University Gastroenterologists at (312) 942-5861 and request an appointment with Abhitabh Patil, MD, or Joshua Melson, MD.

Abhitabh Patil, MD, is an interventional gastroenterologist at Rush. Patil will join radiation oncologist Ross Abrams, MD, and surgeon Jonathan A. Myers, MD, at a free Rush program about pancreatic cancer at 6 p.m. on January 20.

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