Researchers at the Dan L. Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor College of Medicine are getting a boost in their work to help find new ways of diagnosing pancreas cancer at an earlier stage.

To determine what role imaging at the time of new-onset diabetes may play in the early detection of pancreatic cancer, The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) has launched the US $ 25 million Early Detection Initiative, and Baylor will be one of the sites for this research.

The project is a result of the Consortium for the Study of Chronic Pancreatitis, Diabetes and Pancreatic Cancer from the National Institutes of Health and National Cancer Institute and made possible through funding by PanCAN.

PanCAN’s Early Detection Initiative is the largest forward-looking clinical trial of its kind. The study will look at a specific group of people – those over the age of 50 with new-onset diabetes – to determine if imaging at the time of diabetes diagnosis could lead to earlier detection of pancreatic cancer.

A different approach
The Early Detection Initiative will ask different questions – or ask questions in different ways – compared to other studies working to develop more effective early detection strategies. Many early detection efforts have focused on people at high risk for the disease due to a genetic link or family history, and most studies make observations after participants have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer – not before. In contrast, the Early Detection Initiative focuses on new-onset diabetes, a symptom of pancreatic cancer that isn’t well known, identifies pancreatic cancer cases that are not linked to genetic risk, and are expected to provide results that can change clinical practice.

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Baylor researchers will collaborate with other Houston institutions, including Kelsey-Seybold Clinic and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer.

William Fisher, MD, FACS, Director, Elkins Pancreas Center, Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor College of Medicine. Photo: ©2021 Baylor College of Medicine®. Used with permission.

“Pancreatic cancer lags behind all other cancers in terms of outcome,” said William Fisher, MD, FACS, Director, Elkins Pancreas Center, Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor College of Medicine.

Fisher is the principal investigator of the study and also professor and vice chair for clinical affairs in the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery at Baylor.

“Part of the reason for this is the anatomy of the pancreas and the vague symptoms leading up to a diagnosis. This research could be a game-changer in terms of how we approach the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer,” Fisher explained.

A leading cause of death
The five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is just 10%. In 2021 more than 60,000 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and approximately 48,000 will die from the disease, making it the third leading cause of cancer death in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts & Figures 2021 report.[1]

In this study, Fisher and colleagues will follow a large cohort of patients who are at a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer, which includes patients who develop new-onset diabetes. They also will look even more carefully at a subset of these patients who have additional features that put them at an increased risk, such as unexplained weight loss. Individuals in the study will be followed and evaluated through imaging. Across the country, 12,500 individuals will be followed for five years.

In addition to having radiologists analyze the CAT scans of individuals in the study, researchers also will use artificial intelligence to see whether the computer can help pick out those who are either on their way to developing pancreatic cancer or at an early stage of the disease. Blood samples will be taken from the individuals with the hope of developing new diagnostic biomarkers for early diagnosis.

“We hope to shift the diagnosis to an earlier stage of the disease where it’s more treatable,” Fisher said.

“It’s very frustrating to me as a surgeon that we can’t do better with this disease. I’d love to see that change and make a bigger impact with earlier surgeries,” he concluded.

Clinical Trial
Early Detection Initiative for Pancreatic Cancer (EDI) – NCT04662879

[1] Cancer Facts & Figures 2021. American Cancer Society. Online, Last Accessed on November 1, 2021.

Featured Image: Doctor discussing treatment options with a patient. Photo courtesy: 2019 Fotolia/Adobe. Used with permission.

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