Over the last 40 years, survival has improved for most cancers but not for Pancreatic Cancer. This is in large part due to Pancreatic Cancer being underfunded, receiving only 2% of overall cancer research funding. There is currently no standard diagnostic tool or established early detection method for Pancreatic Cancer. Most Pancreatic Cancer patients are diagnosed at Stage IV resulting in the lowest survival rate of all cancers.
Early detection of Pancreatic Cancer is difficult because:
This is due to access to more treatment options, including surgery. For eligible patients, surgery is the best option for long-term survival of Pancreatic Cancer. It can increase a patient’s survival by about ten-fold.
Recognizing the importance of diagnosing pancreatic cancer at an early stage, when patients have the best chance for long-term survival, the FCSP Foundation has identified four early detection research initiatives to support based on their potential to change the lives of patients and their family members. These initiatives—CancerSEEK, GENERATE, FELIX project and CompCyst—are spearheaded by researchers funded by the Lustgarten Foundation, the world’s largest private funder of Pancreatic Cancer research. The FCSP Foundation has also identified VCU's Massey Cancer Center, a Richmond-based cancer treatment center, providing critical support to patients and their families.
Building upon three decades of genetic research, Johns Hopkins has designed a multi-analyte blood test called CancerSEEK that can detect the presence of Pancreatic Cancer as part of a panel of eight common cancers (pancreas, ovary, liver, stomach, esophagus, colorectum, lung and breast). A prospective study in healthy individuals is underway to better understand its performance and how to implement its findings in patient care. A new company, Thrive Earlier Detection Corp is dedicated to advancing CancerSEEK.
Around 10% of Pancreatic Cancer patients carry an inherited change (mutation) in a gene, which can increase the risk of certain cancers. However, family members of patients often are not aware that certain genetic mutations can be passed down, which is why having information about genetic risk is so important. If someone does have an inherited risk, there may be options for early detection and/or more frequent screening (to look for cancer or pre-cancer). The GENERATE (GENetic Education, Risk Assessment, and TEsting) Study is for people who have a close relative with Pancreatic Cancer that was caused by a gene mutation. The goal of the study, which will enroll up to 1,000 participants, is to improve genetic testing and cancer prevention in family members of Pancreatic Cancer patients with identified mutations.
CT features of early Pancreatic Cancer can be subtle and missed by even experienced radiologists. In order to improve the rate and accuracy of detection, The Felix Project, focuses on the use of sophisticated computer programs that teach themselves to read CT scans. The computers will be trained to look for any slight abnormality within the pancreas to spot cancers far sooner than humans alone can do. This will result in earlier detection of pancreatic tumors, as well as improve the number of accurate diagnoses so that the proper care can be initiated sooner.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins developed a Comprehensive Cyst (CompCyst) test, which combines clinical, radiological, genetic and protein marker information to distinguish if pancreatic cysts, which can be common amongst the general population, can develop into Pancreatic Cancer or remain as benign cysts. In a proof-of-concept study, the new test would have avoided cyst removal in more than 50% of patients, where the surgery was later considered unnecessary as the cysts were unlikely to have developed into cancer.
Additionally, at least 5% of all funds raised in 2020 will go to the VCU Massey Cancer Center to be used toward Pancreatic Cancer research. VCU Massey Cancer Center's Pancreas Program is Virginia’s leading resource for Pancreatic Cancer care, and the first of its kind in the Richmond area.