The aim of cancer screening is to detect disease early
National screening programs for breast, colon and cervical cancer have proven to significantly improve the detection and outcome for those Australians affected. For instance, since the introduction of the National Cervical Screening Program deaths from cervical cancer have halved from 4.0 deaths per 100,000 women in 1991 to 1.9 deaths per 100,000 women in 2006 (Cancer in Australia: an overview, 2008). The aim of a screening test is to detect a disease early, prior to the presentation of any symptoms. In addition, the test must be shown to be safe, sensitive and highly specific for that disease. Screening tests are developed when it is proven that early diagnosis of a disease increases the chance of successful treatment and management.
Pancreatic cancer screening research is at its infancy
Although there is evidence that early diagnosis and treatment of pancreatic cancer drastically improves the survival rate, there is currently no single test that meets all of the requirements for an efficient screening test. Existing techniques such as endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) show promise, although it is not feasible to screen the general population. This is due to the fact that pancreatic cancer is relatively uncommon, and the costs of screening the general population would be substantial. To find out more about EUS please visit our medical investigations webpage.
Targeted screening for pancreatic cancer
Screening everyone for pancreatic cancer is not possible, however screening individuals and families considered to be at a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer is a realistic goal. Research groups around the world are working towards identifying a screening test to address this specific population.