November 2016

What does the island of Jamaica have to do with pancreatic cancer? This may seem an unlikely pairing, but a fortunate one for certain patients at Middlesex Hospital.

While on vacation in the Caribbean earlier this year, Dr. Michael Crain, chair of the Radiology Department at Middlesex Hospital, found himself in conversation with another vacationing physician from Canada. The Canadian physician asked Dr. Crain what was being done in the U.S. to screen for pancreatic cancer, expected to be the No. 2 cause of cancer death in the U.S. by 2030.

The pancreas is located deep within the body, making it difficult for doctors to feel any tumors that may be there in a physical exam. Patients often are symptom free until the tumor is more advanced. So far, blood testing hasn’t been helpful in screening for pancreatic cancer. Often, by the time the tumors are detectable, the disease has progressed to a late stage, and is very difficult to treat.

At the time, Dr. Crain told his fellow physician that not much was being done in the U.S. in terms of screening for pancreatic cancer, but this piqued his curiosity, and he did some research in the following months. He discovered multiple articles published just in the past two years about screening for the deadly disease, and that screening programs were starting in other parts of the country. That got him thinking . . . Why not here at Middlesex?

Dr. Crain explained. “I soon realized that Middlesex Hospital had all the ingredients to create a comprehensive screening program – a high-resolution 3T MRI scanner; physicians who are experts at using pancreatic endoscopic ultrasound; an experienced genetic counselor to assist in selecting appropriate patients for the screening; and an accredited Cancer Center.” In addition, a new surgeon who specializes in pancreatic cancer operations will soon be joining the Hospital’s Medical Staff.

Nadeem Hussain, M.D., is a Middlesex Hospital gastroenterologist who will be utilizing a special ultrasound as part of the screening program.

“The hope is, that we will be able to identify those patients who are at highest risk of cancer of the pancreas. This risk assessment can be based on the patient’s family history, history of the patient’s exposure to toxins such as tobacco and/or alcohol, and their genetic history if a mutation has been identified,” according to Dr. Hussain.

The Middlesex Pancreatic Cancer Screening Program may help detect tumors in early stages in those at highest risk, when treatment is easier. Screening is not appropriate for everyone. However, for those who have certain conditions relating to a higher risk for the disease, screening may be an important choice.

Genetic Counselor, Amanda Hamblett, MS, CGC, explains, “Family history is an important part of evaluating risk for pancreatic cancer. Individuals with two or more close relatives with pancreatic cancer have a significantly higher risk to develop pancreatic cancer than individuals without a family history of pancreatic cancer. In addition, certain types of gene mutations can increase the risk to develop multiple types of cancer, including pancreatic cancer. Reviewing family history information with a genetic counselor can clarify individual pancreatic cancer risk and determine when pancreatic cancer screening is appropriate.”

Learn more about pancreatic cancer and screening on our website.

Patients who would like to be considered for this Program should make an appointment with their physician, or call Middlesex Gastroenterology Associates at (860) 347-4620 to discuss their options further.

The information contained within is not meant to substitute for the advice of your physician.