Genetic Testing for Pancreatic Cancer

February 02, 2021

Genetic Testing for Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most lethal cancers, often occurring without warning signs. Given its location deep in the abdomen, a physical exam might not be able to detect early disease, and the vast majority of patients present at a late stage called metastasis. Once symptomatic, the tumor is large enough to cause compression to adjacent organs such as the bile duct, causing skin discoloration, pain, or its spread to other distant organs. When the tumor is no longer confined to the pancreas at the initial presentation, curative treatment options are limited and the survival rate is extremely low compared to other cancers.


Risk factors for pancreatic cancer

  • Smoking
  • Consumption of red meat, processed foods and saturated fats
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Particular pancreatic cysts larger than 3 cm
  • Age (most patients are older than 45, and two-thirds are older than 65)
  • More common in males than females
  • Genetic predisposition (genetic mutations of CDKN2A, BRCA1, BRCA2, PALB2 also found with breast and ovarian cancer; ATM, STK11 associated with Peutz-Jeghers syndrome; and MLH1, MSH2, MSH6, PMS2 associated with Lynch syndrome)

Is it possible to prevent pancreatic cancer?

Although there is no sure way to prevent cancer, adopting a healthy lifestyle (quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy body weight, eating nutritious food and exercising regularly) may help reduce the risk.


In addition to healthy behaviors, how can I prevent cancer caused by genetic predisposition?

Approximately 25% of patients with pancreatic cancer have detectable genetic mutations called germline mutations that can run in the family. With the advancement of genetic and genomic sciences, experienced providers can help you identify and stratify the risks so that you can be proactive in cancer screening. Early detection is the key, while the cancer is still manageable and patients still have plenty of curative treatment options.


Who should get genetic testing?

  • Patients with direct family members (parents, siblings, children) with pancreatic, breast, ovarian, colon cancer or melanoma
  • Patients with pancreatic cancer (so that if they have genetic mutations, their family can get tested too)
  • Patients with new onset diabetes, particularly with worsening blood sugar levels, advanced age or weight loss. The onset of blood sugar abnormalities can start three years prior to the onset of pancreatic cancer
  • Anyone over 18 who worries about cancer

Besides helping prevent cancer, what are the benefits of genetic testing?

Genetic testing helps doctors choose the most effective drugs to stop the growth, destroy and prevent the spread of cancer cells to other parts of the body. The right choice can also minimize any side effects of drugs.


If I have a genetic predisposition, what should I do next?

Your doctor may follow up with an endoscopic ultrasound and/or MRI of the pancreas. Check-ups should take place annually or more frequently if any abnormalities are detected. These should be performed by an experienced, pancreatic, multidisciplinary team.

Why choose Bumrungrad?

Bumrungrad has a comprehensive team of geneticists, oncologists, gastroenterologists, pancreas radiologists and surgical oncologists. In addition, we have College of American Pathologists (CAP)-accredited laboratories, ensuring international standards of quality and accuracy in lab testing and diagnostics.


Digestive Disease (GI) Center

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