A Patient's Guide to Pancreatic Cancer Screening

If you are at risk for pancreatic cancer, the experts at Cedars-Sinai can help. Our Pancreatic Cancer Screening and Early Detection (PanScan) Program offers the most reliable screening options available. Our goal is to catch cancer early so we can treat it. Find out more about our program, learn how screening works and get answers to frequently asked questions.

Screening Process

Annual imaging is the best way to watch for signs of pancreatic cancer if you are at high risk. We use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and endoscopic ultrasound (EUS).

At the PanScan Program, you see a team specializing in detecting pancreatic cancer, including a pancreaticobiliary doctor, nurse practitioner, social worker and genetic counselor. Working together, the team develops a personalized plan to monitor you for early signs of pancreatic cancer. Your appointments also give you a chance to ask us any questions and get information about advances in pancreatic cancer screening.

The screening process includes:

  • Initial evaluation: We call you before your first appointment to learn about your health history and your family's history of pancreatic cancer. We use this information to figure out your level of risk.
  • Genetic testing: You receive comprehensive genetic counseling and genetic testing to assess your risk level. Genetic counselors are trained experts who can interpret genetic test results based on your personal and family history and help you understand your risk.
  • First appointment: You meet with your doctor. We review your family and health history and any previous tests. We also make recommendations about imaging and your schedule for future appointments based on the latest scientific evidence.
  • Ongoing annual screening: We monitor you with annual imaging tests. We also offer information on managing your health and the latest updates on screening for pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic Cancer Screening: Frequently Asked Questions

At Cedars-Sinai, you have access to the most advanced screening for pancreatic cancer. We carefully evaluate you to determine your personalized screening schedule. The team that cares for you also researches the latest advances in pancreatic cancer screening and early detection.

Your risk level for pancreatic cancer depends on your family history, overall health and genetic screening results. Risk factors for pancreatic cancer include:

  • Family history of pancreatic cancer (parent, sibling or child)
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Chronic pancreatitis or certain types of pancreatic cysts
  • Inherited genetic syndromes, including:
    • BRCA1 and BRCA2 (the genes that can increase your odds of developing breast cancer)
    • Ataxia-telangiectasia mutation (ATM)
    • Familial atypical multiple mole melanoma syndrome (CDKN2A mutation)
    • Hereditary pancreatitis (PRSS1, SPINK1)
    • Lynch syndrome
    • Peutz-Jeghers syndrome
    • Other genes that may increase risk, including PALB2 and TP53

If you have one or more risk factors for pancreatic cancer, you are at a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer than the general population. However, your risk can still be low. Pancreatic cancer is rare, accounting for about 3% of all cancers. Your risk does increase with age and other factors, such as smoking.

For the average person, about 13 out of 100,000 people will develop pancreatic cancer. For those at high risk, this can be several times higher.

Yes. If you have a higher risk for pancreatic cancer, then all of your first-degree relatives (parents, siblings and children) can have an increased risk. They should get genetic counseling and may also need high-risk pancreatic cancer screening.

Each person's experience is different, but it is normal to feel concerned about your risk for pancreatic cancer. The goal of annual screenings is to catch pancreatic cancer early when we can treat it with surgery. We hope you can feel reassured that you are taking a proactive approach to your health with screenings.

There is no blood test to find pancreatic cancer. Instead, we determine your risk level for pancreatic cancer through genetic testing and a review of your health and family history. This helps us tailor your screening plan to your risk level. Annual screening tests allow us to watch for signs of cancer or precancerous lesions and develop a treatment plan if cancer develops.

The screening tests we use are magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and endoscopic ultrasound (EUS). Find out more about these diagnostics. The specific type of screening you receive depends on your risk level.

For your first annual screening, you will get an endoscopic ultrasound (EUS). Most people receive annual magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) after that. If we determine you are at particularly high risk for pancreatic cancer, we may recommend that you alternate between an endoscopic ultrasound and MRI each year.

MRI is a good screening tool because it is noninvasive, and you are awake for the test. Endoscopic ultrasound requires sedation so we can insert a thin tube into your mouth to view your digestive tract. Endoscopic ultrasound produces very detailed images that can find smaller cancers or precancerous lesions.

Many insurance providers cover screening and genetic testing for people at high risk for pancreatic cancer. Be sure to check with your insurance provider.

We have many ongoing research studies looking at ways to detect pancreatic cancer early. Many of these studies involve collecting blood samples, urine and sputum (phlegm). Other studies test different types of diagnostics.

You can help advance our knowledge of pancreatic cancer and treatments by participating in this research. We need more research to improve our understanding of risk and early diagnosis. Your participation today will help guide care for future generations. We always ask your permission before you participate in any research study.

We develop a screening plan and appointment schedule during your first visit. You also get updates on recent advances and research findings during your appointments. If you have any questions or concerns between your appointments, please reach out to us.

If you develop cancer, Cedars-Sinai has a team of experts in pancreatic cancer surgery and oncology. These doctors specialize in cancer chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery. They review your imaging tests and work together to determine the best approach for treatment.

Have Questions or Need Help?

Call us or send a message to the PanScan Program.

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