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Harvard Medical School
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General Medical Questions
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Question : Is there a good screening test for pancreatic cancer?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Howard LeWine, M.D., is chief editor of Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications. He is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. LeWine has been a primary care internist and teacher of internal medicine since 1978.

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January 31, 2012
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A:

No, there is not a good screening test for pancreatic cancer at this time. Pancreatic cancer is a rare, deadly disease. Screening tests are most effective for fairly common conditions.

So instead of a screening test for everyone, researchers have been focusing on finding one that would work in people at higher than average risk for pancreatic cancer. This includes people with:

  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • A family history of pancreatic cancer
  • Certain genetic abnormalities, such as a defect in the BRCA2 gene. (BRCA2 defects were first linked with breast and ovarian cancer. But it’s now clear that they’re also linked with pancreatic cancer.)

There’s lots of promising research for people at high risk. But a reasonably priced screening test for the general population is likely to be many years down the road.

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