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PanCAN Begins Study Screening Diabetes Patients for Early Signs of Pancreatic Cancer

NEW YORK – Nonprofit PanCAN has invested $25 million in an early detection initiative that will screen patients recently diagnosed with diabetes for genetic biomarkers associated with pancreatic cancer.

The effort is a randomized controlled trial open to patients over 50 years old who have new-onset diabetes. Researchers will collect blood samples from these patients to screen for blood-based biomarkers associated with pancreatic cancer. The samples will be pooled with blood samples collected through the National Cancer Institute's (NCI) New Onset Diabetes Study and may help researchers develop a screening approach to detect pancreatic cancer in these patients.

The group will also conduct imaging tests on these patients and have patients answer a health survey. The effort is also exploring whether imaging at the time of diabetes diagnosis could lead to earlier detection of pancreatic cancer.

The study will enroll up to 12,500 patients across the US. Patients will be randomized to either the observational arm or intervention arm. In the intervention group, researchers will conduct the blood screening, imaging tests, and health survey. Both study arms will have passive follow-up using electronic medical records five years after enrollment.

PanCAN said the effort was spurred by recent research that suggested sudden onset type 2 diabetes may be a symptom of early pancreatic cancer. Research also suggests that a sudden change in blood sugar levels for patients who had well-controlled diabetes may also be linked to pancreatic cancer.

"Pancreatic cancer doesn't have a colonoscopy or mammogram; there is no routine screening test for the disease," PanCAN President and CEO Julie Fleshman, said in a statement. "To come up with a strategy to detect the disease earlier, we first need to identify a group that is at high risk for getting — or already having — pancreatic cancer."

Patients will be identified for the early detection initiative through electronic medical record systems at participating institutions. The study is currently enrolling in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Kaiser Permanente, and Massachusetts General Hospital.