Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma is the most common type of pancreatic cancer. About 17 in 1,000 people with average risk will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in their lifetime. However, people with inherited mutations have a much higher risk. How much higher depends on the mutation a person inherits. For example, 1 in 10 people with a BRCA1 mutation are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in their lifetime. Among those with an inherited STK11 mutation, up to 35 in 100 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer is seldom found at a treatable stage because people usually have symptoms only with advanced disease. Experts predict that pancreatic cancer will be the second most common cause of cancer death in the United States by 2026. This is in part because the people often do not live long after diagnosis with late-stage pancreatic cancer.
Screening for pancreatic cancer could help. Finding cancer early when it is most treatable could save lives. One study, the Cancer of the Pancreas Screening (CAPS) program is testing this idea. This program looks at screening outcomes for high-risk individuals – those with an inherited mutation and/or family history. Initial information showed that screening leads to earlier diagnosis and improved survival, confirming earlier studies.
These results will likely change pancreatic cancer screening guidelines. The American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy released a new guideline in early 2022. They recommend pancreatic cancer screening for high-risk people because screening was associated with earlier detection, better survival outcomes and fewer adverse events.