Cablevision’s support of The Lustgarten Foundation ensures that 100% of every donation goes directly to pancreatic cancer research.

Ask an Expert Series on Facebook

February 2013

Annette: Any info regarding the 15 yr old Jack Andraka and his early detection paper sensor test and if it will be used in the near future?

Jen: Just thought I would share since a friend shared it with me. Have you heard about this and is there truly any promise? A 15 y/o kid from Maryland may have discovered a new method to detect PC and other cancers in it's early stages. Amazing story...amazing kid!

Susan:  What about this new testing, discovered by the young boy that was in the news recently. Seems it is extremely accurate and cost effective. My mom passed away 19 months ago 6 weeks after her diagnosis. My cousin also 14 months ago. Seems there may be genetics involved.

From The Lustgarten Foundaiton: Dear Annette, Susan and Jen,
Jack is truly a remarkable teenager who has come up with a very creative approach in the laboratory to "seeing" proteins in blood.  While this may hold promise in the future, these types of diagnostics take time to develop for use in the clinic and will need to be validated much more extensively before they are widely available.

From Beth: I read about a clinical trial using something developed by NewLink...I would appreciate any info/insight into what they are doing. I am 9 months into treatment for stage 4 pancreatic cancer....and always seeking as much info as possible....this study looked very promising. Also....I have gained 35 pounds since diagnosis. Is this unusual??

From The Lustgarten Foundation: Dear Beth,
New Link has a phase 3 clinical trial for our HyperAcute Pancreas cancer immunotherapy which is evaluating approximately 700 Stage I and Stage II surgically-resected pancreatic cancer patients.  This therapy is intended to be given along with chemotherapy and is intended to help stimulate the immune system to help fight of the cancer cells. Information on sites that offer this treatment can be found at http://www.clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01072981?term=NCT01072981&rank=1

With regards to your other question, pancreas cancer patients typically struggle with weight loss rather than weight gain but this is not universal. Your doctor is your best resource to determine why this is happening in your case.

From Wanda: I had the Whipple Procedure done Dec 1st-am presently undergoing Chemo. Is it normal to still have pain in the lower abdomen area by your groin? Every time I tell the Dr they don't give me a reassuring answer.  Should I call my gyn?

From The Lustgarten Foundation: Dear Wanda,
I am sorry!  Pain associated with whipped surgeries even up to 6 months afterwards can certainly happen. As I am sure you know this is an invasive surgery from which your body needs time to heal.  Typically, pain is higher up in the body and not in the groin but it could be pain radiating from the surgical site. It may very well be an unrelated issue such as a hernia. Going to see your general practitioner may help guide you best. But don't be afraid to continue to ask your surgeon and oncologists until you have resolved the discomfort.


From Sherry: My Dad died of Pancreatic Cancer on September 4th 2010. He didn't have any wanting signs until it was too late. Is there ANY signs that you can detect early on?

From The Lustgarten Foundation: Dear Sherry,

The symptoms of pancreas cancer can be quite vague and they vary depending on where the cancer is in the pancreas.  Early symptoms can include:

  • Weight loss for no apparent reason.
  • Pain in the stomach often described as a dull pain beginning in the stomach area and spreading around to the back.
  • Jaundice or yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes.
  • Loss of appetite

Symptoms of diabetes or diagnosis with diabetes within the past year Diabetes causes increased thirst, passing of a lot of urine, general weakness, weight loss and hunger.

From Marissol: If you have a family member that passes from this horrible disease, should you be screened and starting at what age?

From Annie: My father died of pancreatic cancer this past summer. I'm a healthy woman. Do my chances of contracting this disease increase b/c my father had it?

From Tammy: My question is just like a lot if others, my father passed away from pancreatic cancer last June and what are my chances of getting this cancer, I went to a doctor to have blood work done and he turned me down and said it doesn't run in family's, is that true?

From Dennis:  I am a 33 yr old father of 4 my dad passed away from Pc almost 4 years ago at the age of 48. Is Pc hereditary?

From Lois: Is there a genetic connection to contracting pancreatic cancer? Since my husbnad died of this terrible disease I am concerned for my children and grandchildren.

From The Lustgarten Foundation: Dear Marissol, Annie, Lois, Tammy and Dennis

The vast majority of pancreas cancers arise by random chance not via hereditary factors (90 – 95%).  “High risk” families are considered those who have:

  • Two or more first-degree relatives (parents, sibling, child) with pancreatic cancer, one first-degree relative diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at an early age (under the age of 50)
  • Two or more second-degree relatives (grandparent, aunt/uncle, niece/nephew, half-sibling) with pancreatic cancer, one of whom developed it at an early age, Or a history of a cancer syndrome associated with pancreatic cancer (like Hereditary pancreatitis, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome or FAMMM)

If your families do not have these types of history then the likelihood of your developing pancreas cancer is the same as everyone else so 12.1 per 100,000 or 0.012%.

From Angel: My father and grandmother had pancreatic CA. What screening tests, if any, are available to people that have had family members with pancreatic CA?

From The Lustgarten Foundation: Dear Angel,

There are families with hereditary pancreatic cancer, which can increase the risk of developing the disease in family members.  People at “high risk” of hereditary pancreas cancer have two or more first-degree relatives (parents, sibling, child) with pancreatic cancer, one first-degree relative diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at an early age (under the age of 50).  Active screening in these families has saved lives.

Some DNA mutations are known to be important in hereditary pancreatic cancer and there are tests for some of these (BRCA2, BRCA1, PALB2, p16/CDKN2A, STK11, PRSS1, ATM, and DNA mis-match repair genes).  There are also screening programs for people in high-risk groups.  These screening programs monitor the pancreas routinely using state of the art imaging techniques and have been A list of sites contacts for these types of screening programs can be found in our “Interview with an Expert” series on Screening and Early Detection.

From Susan:  My Mom passed away Jan 2013 from Pancreatic Cancer... No family history of cancer at all however she had prior breast cancer. What concerns should I and my siblings have about Pancreatic cancer being hereditary? Early detection also... How soon will this be realized or should people with family history be asking for blood tests/tumor marker tests specifically to monitor?

From The Lustgarten Foundation: Dear Susan,

With regards to your family history, keep in mind that most of the time, the genetic alterations that lead to pancreas cancer happen by chance in a cell of the pancreas and in fact 90-95% of people are not born with genes that predispose them to pancreas cancer.  However, there are some genes (like BRCA1 and BRCA2 that are found in breast and pancreas cancer families).  If you are concerned that your mother may have been a carrier of these types of genetic alterations, you could certainly seek the advice of a genetic councilor to look at testing options for your family.

With regards to early detection, researchers are working hard to try to develop a “simple” test for pancreas cancer but, unfortunately, it is not available yet.   The screening that is currently used is for high-risk families. People at “high risk” of hereditary pancreas cancer have two or more first-degree relatives (parents, sibling, child) with pancreatic cancer, one first-degree relative diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at an early age (under the age of 50). This type of screening typically uses imaging technologies like PET and CT scans.  Accurate early detection blood tests are not yet available but are certainly being studied.

From Shelby: My father and paternal grandfather died from pancreatic cancer, is there any tests currently that could detect if there is a hereditary gene carried in the family?

From Mary:  Can (or is) pancreatic cancer hereditary? My father-in-law died of it when he was 59, my husband when he was 69. Now I am worried about my son who is 37.

From Colleen: What are the options/test for early detection?

From Elaine: My dad passed away from PC in 2007. I have the same question as so many others who have already posted: what are the current options for PC detection/screening, esp for family members? Please address this.

From The Lustgarten Foundation: Dear Shelby, Colleen, Elaine and Mary,

Researchers are working hard to try to develop a “simple” test for pancreas cancer but, unfortunately, it is not available yet.   As I am sure you know, most of the time (in 90-95% of cases) people are not born with genes that predispose them to pancreas cancer but rather genetic changes in pancreas DNA develop spontaneously in their cells during their lifetime. 

However, there are families with hereditary pancreatic cancer, which can increase the risk of developing the disease in family members. .  People at “high risk” of hereditary pancreas cancer have two or more first-degree relatives (parents, sibling, child) with pancreatic cancer, one first-degree relative diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at an early age (under the age of 50).  Some DNA mutations are known to be important in hereditary pancreatic cancer and there are tests for some of these (BRCA2, BRCA1, PALB2, p16/CDKN2A, STK11, PRSS1, ATM, and DNA mis-match repair genes).  Unfortunately there is no routine test that can detect Pancreatic Cancer early but there are screening programs for people in high-risk groups.  These screening programs monitor the pancreas routinely using state of the art imaging techniques.  This type of intense screening is typically limited to those with known syndromes predisposing to pancreatic cancer or come from a family that includes at least three affected members.  A list of sites contacts for these types of screening programs can be found in our “Interview with an Expert” series on Screening and Early Detection.


From Becky:  is an MRI the most accurate way to 'test' so far? My mother passed in 2006 and other cancers as well are rampant in my family. I am 35. Do you think having an earlier colonoscopy, say 40 instead of 50, would be beneficial? Seems like the majority of pancreatic cancer passings I have read about are early 40s, mid 50s. 

From The Lustgarten Foundation: Dear Becky,

Unfortunately a colonoscopy, while very successful at detecting cancers in the lower digestive tract, are not able to detect pancreas cancer.  If you are concerned you should definitely ask your doctor regarding the time to have your first colonoscopy and potentially seek out a genetic councilor who can assess your risk of cancers based on your family history.

From Rosemary:  I have Type 2 diabetes. Am I at greater risk of contracting pancreatic ca?

From Lana: My mother (age 69) passed away five months ago from this horrible disease. She opted NOT to do chemo and she was gone in 5 months just like the drs predicted.  I want to know what can be done as far as preventative screening for next generation. She was told she was pre diabetic a year before her diagnosis. She was far from over weight but her parents developed diabetes later in life too so we thought it was just hereditary. Clearly there must be a link to the two diseases. We NEED to desperately find a cure and earlier screening!

From The Lustgarten Foundation: Dear Rosemary and Lana,

Some studies have linked Type-2 diabetes to pancreatic cancer, but more studies are needed to better understand the role it plays in causing pancreatic cancer as well as the risk it poses.   New onset diabetes, however, has been identified as a potential early indication of pancreatic cancer (within a year of diagnosis) in some cases.

The vast majority of pancreas cancers arise by random chance not via hereditary factors (90 – 95%).  “High risk” families are considered those who have:

  • Two or more first-degree relatives (parents, sibling, child) with pancreatic cancer, one first-degree relative diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at an early age (under the age of 50)
  • Two or more second-degree relatives (grandparent, aunt/uncle, niece/nephew, half-sibling) with pancreatic cancer, one of whom developed it at an early age,
  •  Or a history of a cancer syndrome associated with pancreatic cancer (like Hereditary pancreatitis, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome or FAMMM)

If your families do not have these types of history then the likelihood of your developing pancreas cancer is the same as everyone else so 12.1 per 100,000 or 0.012%.

From Robin: I lost my Mom 2 1/2 years ago to pancreatic cancer...is there an early detection test? She did not know until she turned yellow...it was too late. It worries me, my dad died of cancer also and now my brother has it too.

From Marci: My dad died of pancreatic cancer in 1982 at the age of 48 and so did his sister at the age of 56 (my aunt). As his children, are my brother's , my sister and I , more likely to get this type of cancer ? I live in fear since we are now all past the age of 48.

From The Lustgarten Foundation: Dear Robin and Marci,

There are families with hereditary pancreatic cancer, which can increase the risk of developing the disease in family members.  People at “high risk” of hereditary pancreas cancer have two or more first-degree relatives (parents, sibling, child) with pancreatic cancer, one first-degree relative diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at an early age (under the age of 50).  Active screening in these families has saved lives.

Some DNA mutations are known to be important in hereditary pancreatic cancer as well as other cancers and there are tests for some of these (BRCA2, BRCA1, PALB2, p16/CDKN2A, STK11, PRSS1, ATM, and DNA mis-match repair genes).  There are also screening programs for people in high-risk groups.  These screening programs monitor the pancreas routinely using state of the art imaging techniques and have been able to save lives. A list of sites contacts for these types of screening programs can be found in our “Interview with an Expert” series on Screening and Early Detection.

From Peggy: My father died of pancreatic cancer in 2001. He had been a smoker and had probably 40 years before dianosis. I too am an ex-smoker, haven't had a cigarette in 22 years. Does smoking increase your risk of pancreatic cancer (I have heard it is considered a risk factor)? Does quitting smoking make a difference or is the damage already done? What role does heredity play? Should my siblings and I be screened for pancreatic CA? If so starting at what age?

From The Lustgarten Foundation: Dear Peggy,
Recent studies have shown that the risk of pancreatic cancer increases as the amount and duration of smoking increase, and that long-term smoking cessation (>10 years) reduces the risk by approximately 30% compared to the risk of current smokers.

The vast majority of pancreas cancers arise by random chance not via hereditary factors (90 – 95%).  “High risk” families are considered those who have:

  • Two or more first-degree relatives (parents, sibling, child) with pancreatic cancer, one first-degree relative diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at an early age (under the age of 50)
  • Two or more second-degree relatives (grandparent, aunt/uncle, niece/nephew, half-sibling) with pancreatic cancer, one of whom developed it at an early age,
  • Or a history of a cancer syndrome associated with pancreatic cancer (like Hereditary pancreatitis, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome or FAMMM)

If your family does not have these types of history then the likelihood of your developing pancreas cancer is the same as everyone else so 12.1 per 100,000 or 0.012%.


From Lynn: Is it known how long pancreatic adenocarcinoma may have started before a persons death?

From The Lustgarten Foundation: Dear Lynn,
Great question with a somewhat vague answer. There are conflicting studies on when exactly pancreatic cancer cells start to grow out of control.  In one recent Johns Hopkins study, using gene analysis of material taken at autopsy from pancreas cancer patients, it was found that it takes at least a decade from the first cancer-causing mutation in a normal pancreas cell, until the development of a full-blown cancer cell.  It was further speculated that it takes another five to seven years before this initial cancer cell turns into a tumor and metastasizes. 

In another study, from U. Penn. however, it was recently reported that in animal models of pancreas cancer we can already see cells at very early stages of PanINs (premalignant growths that can develop into pancreas cancer) that are starting to move out of the pancreas.  So the answer to your question is really, we are working hard to figure that out but don’t know yet.

From Sandie: I have 2 first degree realatives who have died from PC and have seen drs at John Hopkins for testing, genetic counseling, etc and have been told through various testing, that myself and one of my brothers have pre-cursers to PC. Therese pre-cursers are cysts on the head of the pancreas and abnormal arteries going into the pancreas. We both get EUS testing every six months, MRIS and tumor marking blood testing every year. I also have two close counsins who both suffer from Ovarian Cancer, which I have been told is somehow related to PC. My question is, why is prophylactic removal of my pancreas not a viable option at this point in my life with my family history and the genetics be there for me to devolp PC?

From The Lustgarten Foundation: Dear Sandie,

As medicine and surgical techniques have improved, there are situations where whole pancratectomies have been done in high-risk patients who show signs of precancerous lesions.  However, this is not a routine procedure, nor is it without serious risks not only to health but quality of life.  As the pancreas is critical not only for the regulation of blood sugar but also for digestion, patients with pancreatectomies need to strictly regulate their diets and replace the pancreas digestive enzymes they no longer can make as well as constantly monitor and control their insulin levels.  As you have had several family members pass from pancreatic cancer you are absolutely doing the right thing by having yourself and your family closely monitored at Hopkins.  I suspect that your Hopkins team is carefully weighing your risk, your results and the effects that a total pancreatectomy would have on your quality of life.

Join Now

Lustgarten Facebook Lustgarten Twitter Lustgarten YouTube channel

The Lustgarten Foundation
1111 Stewart Avenue, Bethpage, New York 11714
Toll Free: 1-866-789-1000 P: 516-803-2304 F: 516-803-2303

©2009 Lustgarten Foundation - 501(c)3 - CharityNavigator: 4 Stars