The combination of chronic smoking plus drinking had no stronger effect on pancreatic risk than either habit alone, the researchers found.
Pancreatic cancer is expected to be diagnosed in nearly 38,000 people in the United States this year, according to the American Cancer Society, and about 34,000 will die of the disease. The lifetime risk is about 1 in 79 but is affected by factors such as advancing age, obesity and family history.
Because it is often emerges without symptoms, pancreatic cancer is often not detected until its later stages, when treatment is less effective. But even if caught at stage one the outlook is bleak, researchers said. At stage one, the 5-year survival from pancreatic malignancy is about 33 percent.
The pancreas, about 6 inches long and less than 2 inches wide, extends across the abdomen. It makes key hormones, including insulin, and helps to balance blood sugar.
Finding pancreatic tumors earlier -- especially important for people with a family history, or other factor indicating high risk -- is the focus of much research. And a new study suggests that combining two methods may provide better screening, according to another researcher, Dr. Richard Zubarik, associate professor of medicine and chief of endoscopy at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, Vt.
His research team used a blood test called CA19-9 -- a test to detect a tumor marker most often used to monitor disease progress and predict survival rates. They then combined that screen with an endoscopic ultrasound to try to detect the cancer in the earliest stages.
Of the 272 patients enrolled, one patient was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and one with abnormal pancreatic cell growth.
However, the method is expensive -- it cost $14,000 to detect the cancer and about $11,000 to detect the abnormal cell growth, Zubarik said.
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