‘Virtual biopsy’ allows doctors to diagnose precancerous cysts with unprecedented accuracy.
Overall cancer survival has dramatically improved over the past two decades. However, the prognosis for pancreatic cancer remains bleak, with five-year survival at just 9 percent. Patients usually don’t have symptoms until the cancer is advanced, making early diagnosis and treatment a challenge.
Now, a study by researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center finds a new diagnostic method that provides doctors with a “virtual biopsy” that allows them to definitively diagnose cysts in the pancreas and eliminate those that pose a risk of cancer.
“Pancreatic cysts are common, and it can be difficult to determine which are benign and which will be cancerous, but this procedure allows us to do that quickly and with confidence,” said Dr. Somashekar Krishna, a gastroenterologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and lead author of the study.
The new method is added to the standard of care, which involves testing the fluid inside the cyst. “That method correctly identifies cysts as benign or precancerous 71% of the time. When the virtual biopsy is added to the standard of care, the diagnostic accuracy jumps to 97%,” said Krishna. “Not only does this help us avoid unnecessary surgery of benign cysts, but it can save lives by catching pancreatic cancer before it is life-threatening.”
The procedure provides doctors with a microscopic view of the cyst wall, which is produced by a tiny scope that emits laser light inside the cyst. This allows doctors to determine almost immediately if it is precancerous. “Many times we are able to tell the patient right after the procedure, ‘You have a precancerous cyst, and we need to send you to the surgeon to have it removed,” said Krishna.
Researchers are now working to train doctors at hospitals across The U.S to perform this new diagnostic method and read the images provided by the scope to catch dangerous cysts and prevent pancreatic cancer for more patients.