Researchers in the Sol Goldman Pancreatic Cancer Research Center have found that more than four in 10 people at high risk for hereditary pancreatic cancer have small pancreatic lesions long before they have any symptoms of the deadly disease. This finding, reported in the April issue of the journal Gastroenterology was led by Dr. Marcia Canto, and included investigators from Johns Hopkins as well as members of the “American Cancer of the Pancreas Screening (CAPS) Consortium.”
The investigators screened 225 asymptomatic adult people at high risk for hereditary pancreatic cancer (defined as individuals with at least two close blood relatives who have had the disease and those who have inherited gene mutations known to increase the risk of pancreatic cancer, including the BRCA2 gene mutation) using computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and endoscopic ultrasonography (EUS).
Canto and her colleagues found that the prevalence of pancreatic lesions increases with age, with potential precursors identified in 14 percent of high-risk subjects under the age of 50, in 34 percent of those ages 50 to 59, and in 53 percent of those 60- to 69-years old. Five of the patients had what pre-cancerous lesions and underwent surgery to remove them. Patients with lesions who did not require surgery were recommended for regular follow up screening to see if the lesions change in size or shape.
While it is important to recognize that not all pancreatic cysts or lesions become pancreatic cancer, the study is important because it suggests that potentially curable precancerous lesions can be detected by screening high risk individuals. As Dr. Canto said, “We now know that although these high-risk patients often tend to develop pancreatic lesions, we can detect the lesions, track them over time and remove them before they become cancer.”