After losing both his mother and father to pancreatic cancer 10 years apart, Alex Rosero, a 52-year-old college administrator, knew that he and his 4 siblings would need to be proactive to protect themselves from the disease.
His sister-in-law, a physician, connected him with the Pancreatic Cancer Early Detection and Prevention Center at NYU Langone Health’s Perlmutter Cancer Center. Alex enrolled in the program in 2019, a year after his father’s death, and his brothers and sisters are following suit. “I’m participating in a surveillance study not only to take care of myself, but also for my seven nieces and nephews,” he says. “I want to help researchers find better treatments or a cure for the next generation of our family.”
Clinicians and researchers at the center aim to increase the 5-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer from 9 percent to 50 percent within the next decade. Their goal is to prevent the disease or diagnose it early, when the chances of recovery are greater. Currently, 80 percent of pancreatic cancers are diagnosed at a late stage, when surgery is no longer practical.
“While there is no standard screening test, there are some steps that may help avoid pancreatic cancer,” notes Diane M. Simeone, MD, the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Professor of Surgery and director of the Pancreatic Cancer Center.
The first priority, says Dr. Simeone, is to know your risk.
“Make sure your primary care physician takes a thorough medical history,” she advises. “If more than one person in your family has had pancreatic cancer, you should have your DNA examined in what we call a germline test.” A blood sample can determine whether a patient’s risk is high enough to warrant annual screening with an MRI or endoscopic ultrasound.
“I want to help researchers find better treatments or a cure for the next generation of our family.”
—Alex Rosero, Patient with the Pancreatic Cancer Early Detection and Prevention Center at NYU Langone Health’s Perlmutter Cancer Center
Screening people at high risk, notes Dr. Simeone, boosts the odds of detecting a removable lesion from 15 percent to 90 percent.
NYU Langone serves as the coordinating center for the new PRECEDE (Pancreatic Cancer Early Detection) Consortium, a global collaborative of 35 academic medical centers focused on early detection in people with familial high risk. Dr. Simeone notes that for half the patients who consult the program for surgical treatment, she can’t identify a known risk factor. This highlights that there is much to learn about identifying those at risk for pancreatic cancer.
Dr. Simeone stresses the importance of managing risk factors associated with pancreatic cancer that can be controlled, such as smoking, drinking, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, which doubles the risk for pancreatic cancer. She adds that there is a growing appreciation of the role of heritable risk, which likely involves 15 percent to 20 percent of cases.