Shedding New Light on Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer detected with endoscopic probe measuring field effect

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) One of the reasons pancreatic cancer is among the more difficult cancers to treat is because the organ is difficult to reach. It's nestled inside the intestines and by the time a biopsy is performed, the cancer is usually advanced.

New technology may change all this.

Detecting pancreatic cancer could be as easy as shining a light inside the small intestine. The light attached to a tube measures what's known as the "field effect" in the nearby pancreas.

"Don't give up until you find out what's behind the pain."

Physicians at Mayo Clinic in Florida have used this minimally invasive technique called Polarization Gating Spectroscopy to find pancreatic cancer with 100 percent accuracy in a small study. 

“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,” said gastroenterologist Michael Wallace, MD, the chairman of the Division of Gastroenterology at Mayo Clinic in Florida. 

The research was presented May 21, 2012 at the international Digestive Disease Week 2012, the world’s largest gathering of physicians and researchers who treat and study gastrointestinal tract disorders.

James Farrell, MD, told dailyRx, the study is being presented at the meeting as "Less invasive and promising technology which will require more prospective study." Dr. Farrell is director of the University of California Los Angeles Medical Center Endoscopic Ultrasound Division of Digestive Diseases.

For the study, Mayo researchers and long-time collaborators at Northwestern University used an endoscope (lighted fiber-optic probe) to measure oxygenated blood and expanded blood vessels in the area where the pancreas and small intestine join.

Tumors need more blood to survive, so tissue that's near cancer has larger blood vessels and more oxygenated blood.This is known as the "field effect."

The probe and technique were tested in 10 patients who were later diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas and nine healthy patients.

The probe found all 10 cancers. It wasn't as effective in determining which healthy patients did not have the disease.

“Although results are still preliminary, the concept of detection field effects of nearby cancers holds great promise for possible early detection of pancreatic cancer,” Dr. Wallace said.

He adds, “If the studies confirm the early results, it would make the pancreas accessible to a much simpler upper endoscope, and that would be a real advance in the treatment of pancreatic cancer.”

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and Mayo Clinic. 

No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 21, 2012
Last Updated:
September 27, 2012