WEDNESDAY, June 3, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Mayo Clinic researchers say they have developed new tests that make it easier to diagnose cancers of the pancreas and bile ducts.
In a study, the new tests more than doubled the detection rate of these cancers, which frequently are fatal because they often are not discovered until their later stages.
"The earlier we can diagnose a patient, the better the types of treatment we can offer, and the more likely they are to have long-term survival after treatment," study senior author Lewis Roberts, a Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist, said in a news release.
The results appear in the June issue of Gastroenterology.
Doctors typically look for tumors in the bile duct and pancreas region by snaking an endoscope down a patient's throat and into those areas of the body. But because the bile duct is narrow, it is hard for medical personnel to determine what is normal and what is a further stricture -- or narrowing -- caused by a tumor.
The new testing procedure starts with an endoscopic procedure in which the doctors brush off cells from the duct for study. Traditional cytology is then performed to look for abnormally shaped cells, a search repeated with the additional use of digital image analysis and fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH). The latter procedure uses colored probes visible with a fluorescence microscope to seek abnormal cells.
In the study, nearly 500 people known to have narrowing of the pancreatobiliary duct underwent the new testing procedures. The combination of cytology and FISH increased the bile duct and pancreatic cancer detection rate from 20 percent to 43 percent.
About 5,000 cases of bile duct cancer are diagnosed every year, mostly in people between ages 50 and 70, making it rare, although reported cases are on the rise. In the United States, doctors annually diagnose more than 35,000 cases of pancreatic cancer.
The American Cancer Society has more about pancreatic cancer.