This rare disease makes up only 2 percent of all new cancer cases in the country, but it recently surpassed breast cancer as the third-most common cancer killer in the United States. So it’s safe to say cancer screening strategies are desperately needed. “The hopeful news is that there are new technologies emerging, such as molecular blood tests and other novel approaches, that could expand early detection efforts to these historically unscreened tumor types,” says David A. Ahlquist, MD, gastroenterologist and professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine. The reason pancreatic cancer is so difficult to detect is because it’s internal, initially painless, and not generally connected to anything that would lead to symptoms. “The exception is if it happens to occur close to the bile duct, which leads to blockage and jaundice relatively early in the course of the disease,” explains Mark Faries, MD, surgical oncologist and director of the Donald L. Morton, MD, Melanoma Research Program and director of therapeutic immunology at the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “Treatment in a fortunate minority is a very large operation, and in those whose cancer is detected later, treatment is largely based on chemotherapy and is temporarily relieving at most.” Watch out for these pancreatic cancer symptoms.
Kidney cancer can be hard to detect because patients aren’t usually tested unless they show the symptoms, which often include lower back pain, chronic fatigue, unexplained weight loss, and blood in urine. “Because the kidneys are so deep inside the body, small kidney tumors cannot be seen or felt during an annual physical exam,” explains Chris Fikry, MD, vice president of oncology at Quest Diagnostics. “Additionally, there are no recommended screening tests for kidney cancer in people who are not at increased risk.” Patients who have certain inherited conditions, such as Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome (VHL), hereditary papillary renal cell carcinoma (HPRCC), and Birt-Hogg-Dubé syndrome (BHD) have a higher risk of kidney cancer. Doctors may choose to recommend that these patients get regular imaging tests such as computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look for kidney tumors.