When pancreatic cancer is detected early, it’s more treatable. Yet therein lies the problem – it’s very difficult to detect early. Pancreatic cancer often has no symptoms until it is advanced and has spread to other organs, making early diagnosis very challenging.
But there’s one way to zero in on your risk for developing pancreatic cancer and the ability to catch the disease in its earlier stages: it’s if you have a family history of the disease.
“If you have family members with pancreatic cancer or certain genetic mutations linked to pancreatic cancer, your risk may be higher and regular screening may be something to consider,” says hepatobiliary surgeon Alexander Itskovich, MD, medical director of the Statesir Cancer Center at CentraState. “Genetic testing and counseling can help us better determine that risk level, so it goes hand-in-hand with high-risk pancreatic screening.”
Q. Who is at high risk for pancreatic cancer?
A. Smoking, diabetes, obesity, pancreatitis (chronic inflammation of the pancreas), and older age can increase your risk for pancreatic cancer. But your risk may be magnified if:
- You have a family history of pancreatic cancer, especially in a parent or sibling, more than one relative, or a relative diagnosed before age 50.
- You or a family member has a BRCA gene mutation. This mutation is linked to breast, ovarian, pancreatic, and other types of cancer.
- You or a family member has certain other genetically linked syndromes.
Q. How does genetic testing help?
A. If you’re at high risk for pancreatic cancer, you may be eligible for genetic testing. This blood test checks to see if you have certain genetic mutations. It can help you and your doctors better understand your risk for cancer and, if needed, monitor for it through regular screenings. Understanding your genetics can also mean more effective treatment if cancer is diagnosed, because targeted treatment options are now available based on a person’s genetic makeup.
Q. How does high-risk pancreatic screening work?
A. CentraState can help determine if you qualify for genetic testing, which is usually covered by insurance for those who may be at high risk. To help you understand these results, CentraState offers free genetic counseling from trained genetics experts for patients and their families who qualify for genetic testing. If the results show that pancreatic cancer screening may be beneficial, your doctor would order an MRI of your pancreas and make further recommendations based on the results. “Our goal is not only to treat cancer in a personalized, holistic way, but also to prevent the disease and enable early diagnosis, when it’s most treatable,” says Dr. Itskovich. “Genetics is an important tool for this approach, and it’s now part of every cancer program at CentraState.
For more information on the Statesir Cancer Center at CentraState, visit centrastatecancercenter.com or call 855-411-CANCER (855-411-2262).