Published online Sep 14, 2014. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v20.i34.12118
Revised: January 23, 2014
Accepted: May 29, 2014
Published online: September 14, 2014
Pancreatic cancer is the 4th leading cause of cancer-related death in Western countries. Considering the low incidence of pancreatic cancer, population-based screening is not feasible. However, the existence of a group of individuals with an increased risk to develop pancreatic cancer has been well established. In particular, individuals suffering from a somatic or genetic condition associated with an increased relative risk of more than 5- to 10-fold seem to be suitable for enrollment in a surveillance program for prevention or early detection of pancreatic cancer. The aim of such a program is to reduce pancreatic cancer mortality through early or preemptive surgery. Considering the risk associated with pancreatic surgery, the concept of preemptive surgery cannot consist of a prophylactic removal of the pancreas in high-risk healthy individuals, but must instead aim at treating precancerous lesions such as intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms or pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasms, or early cancer. Currently, results from clinical trials do not convincingly demonstrate the efficacy of this approach in terms of identification of precancerous lesions, nor do they define the outcome of the surgical treatment of these lesions. For this reason, surveillance programs for individuals at risk of pancreatic cancer are thus far generally limited to the setting of a clinical trial. However, the acquisition of a deeper understanding of this complex area, together with the increasing request for screening and treatment by individuals at risk, will usher pancreatologists into a new era of preemptive pancreatic surgery. Along with the growing demand to treat individuals with precancerous lesions, the need for low-risk investigation, low-morbidity operation and a minimally invasive approach becomes increasingly pressing. All of these considerations are reasons for preemptive pancreatic surgery programs to be undertaken in specialized centers only.
Core tip: Pancreatic cancer is the 4th leading cause of cancer-related death in Western countries. Considering the low incidence of pancreatic cancer, population-based screening is not feasible. This review analyzes the possibility to identify a population at risk for pancreatic cancer and the strategies for clinical screening and prevention.