Other strategies are being studied to see if they can increase the bleak survival rates. In another study, researchers compared the records of more than 4,000 patients with pancreatic cancer and divided them into two groups -- those who had the ultrasound (about 12 percent of the sample) and those who did not.
Those who received the ultrasound at diagnosis had a somewhat longer average survival time, said Dr. Ananya Das, associate chair of medicine, Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz. Undergoing this screen increased average survival time for patients from 5 months to 9 months.
Going to a center that offers this method may mean that patients receive better overall care, he said. Endoscopic ultrasound is available at leading medical centers, he said.
In patients at very high risk of pancreatic cancer, such as those with a family history, surveillance performed by a team of specialists can also help, said Dr. Teresa A. Brentnall, associate professor of medicine at the University of Washington, Seattle.
"Our goal is to protect them from pancreatic cancer," she said. Her team found that two tests could help. One is the endoscopic ultrasound, the other is called an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography.
Brentnall's team followed 100 patients using these methods. Of the 100 patients, two developed cancer (one inoperable), and 20 had abnormal cell growths. The combination can help lead to detection of pancreatic pre-cancer, she said.
To learn more about pancreatic cancer, visit the American Cancer Society.
SOURCES: press conference, May 20, 2008, Digestive Disease Week, San Diego, with: Michelle A. Anderson, M.D., assistant professor of medicine, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Teresa A. Brentnall, M.D., associate
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