Gut probe can spot deadly pancreatic cancer

Washington: Physicians can now spot pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest ever, by simply shining a tiny light within the small intestine, close to its junction with the pancreas, 100 percent of the time.

Pancreatic cancer, which killed a visionary entrepreneur such as Steve Jobs of Apple, is notoriously hard to detect owing to its very deep location in the abdomen, surrounded by the gut. Mayo Clinic researchers will now test this minimally invasive technique, called Polarization Gating Spectroscopy, in a much larger international clinical trial.

The light, attached to a probe, measures changes in cells and blood vessels in the small intestine produced by a growing cancer in the adjoining pancreas. The investigators theorized that there may be changes in the nearby "normal appearing" tissue of the small intestine which is much more accessible.

The preliminary study suggests it may be possible, one day, to use a less invasive endoscope to screen patients for early development of pancreatic cancer, according to a Mayo Clinic statement.

"No one ever thought you could detect pancreatic cancer in an area that is somewhat remote from the pancreas, but this study suggests it may be possible," says gastroenterologist Michael Wallace, Mayo Clinic, Florida. He co-authored the study with Vadim Backman, professor of biomedical engineering and gastroenterologist Hemant Roy, both at Northwestern University.

Pancreatic cancer is only curable in five percent of cases, and even when it is surgically removed, 70 percent of patients have a recurrence that is fatal, Wallace says. There are no ways currently to detect the cancer early enough to cure a substantial number of patients, he says.

These findings are being highlighted at the international Digestive Disease Week 2012.


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