Health Beat: Preventing pancreatic cancer

Health Beat: Preventing pancreatic cancer

Statistics show the rates of pancreatic cancer have slowly increased over the past 10 years. The risk of developing it in your lifetime is about 1 in 78.  Now, researchers are working on ways to change that.

The American Cancer Society estimates 45,000 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2013, and it's estimated that it will kill more than 38,000 people in the same time period.

An actor, an astronaut and Apple's CEO have all been killed by pancreatic cancer in recent years.

"The number of people who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer every year is almost the same number as the people who die," said Dr. Anne Marie Lennon at Johns Hopkins University.

Chances of living five years after diagnosis are less than five percent, and most will die within the first year mainly because pancreatic cancer can be difficult to detect. Patients usually have no symptoms until the cancer's already spread.

Now, researchers are focusing on early detection to try to stop it before it forms. 

"We're really excited about this!" exclaimed Lennon.

A recent study found up to 13 percent of patients who underwent an MRI had pancreatic cysts. Lennon said they account for up to 20 percent of pancreatic cancers.

Now, using endoscopic ultrasound, doctors get high-resolution images of the pancreas.  If cysts are found, they are biopsied, and the cyst fluid is analyzed to figure out if it's cancerous.

"So we have the potential to intervene and try and prevent up to 20 percent of people with pancreatic cancer from developing it," said Lennon.

Researchers are also working on a promising gene test that could predict if cysts have the potential to become cancerous.  It's currently being studied in a large clinical trial across the country.

African Americans have a higher risk of getting pancreatic cancer than whites. The Mayo Clinic warns other top risk factors for pancreatic cancer include obesity, diabetes, smoking, and family history.

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