A team of doctors at the UW has developed a multidisciplinary surveillance program for
the early detection of pancreatic cancer and its precursors in patients with a familial
predisposition for pancreatic cancer. This surveillance program is the first of its kind
in the world. The approach requires the expertise and dedication of specialists who are
trained in pathology, endoscopy and surgery of the pancreas. These specialists at the UW
are among only a handful of physicians worldwide with expertise and experience in this
arena of medicine. We are now able to identify patients who have pancreatic pre-cancer
and warrant surgical intervention, to prevent invasive cancer and cure them of their early
disease. At present, almost all symptomatic pancreatic cancer is advanced and incurable when
diagnosed. In hereditary pancreatic cancer we have shown that pre-cancer or early cancer
diagnosed while asymptomatic is curable.
UW researchers are keeping pace with and in fact advancing the frontiers of clinical care.
The genes that can cause pancreatic cancer are being sought. This will help further define
which family members are affected. When a genetic test to diagnose hereditary pancreatic cancer
is discovered, it may also prove useful in the more common non-hereditary types of pancreatic
cancer. Epidemiologic studies at the UW have uncovered risk factors, such as smoking and exposure
to dry cleaning fluids, that can dramatically influence the cancer risk of patients who have a
positive family history. Similar environmental factors may be found in the more common non-familial
pancreatic cancers. Exciting basic research is ongoing to develop even better methods of early
diagnosis, prevention and treatment.