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Surveillance Program

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.

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