Depending on who you are and how you count, there are almost twenty kinds of pancreatic cancer. The main two that we generally speak of are ductal adenocarcinoma of the pancreas which arises from the non-hormonal part of the organ and may be responsible for as much as 85% of cases, and pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (NETS) from the hormonal part of the pancreas – which true incidence is not fully established, but we might say represent about 10% of pancreatic cancer diagnosis.
There are many differences between these two main types of malignancy: natural history, signs and symptoms, treatment, and prognosis. From a functional practical sense, there is also one big difference that we have seen: often adenocarcinoma has presented itself with a diagnosis late but often fairly easily – so that treatment is typically the issue. And neuroendocrine tumors are often elusive in diagnosis with perplexing signs and symptoms – sometimes for years – so here diagnosis is often the primary issue.
So, it is with interest that we encounter research by Frocione and his Illinois colleagues presented in the June 21st 2013 issue of the World Journal of Gastroenterology that reviews medical literature in terms of the use of the accuracy of the technique of endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) in the diagnosis of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors.
The researchers reviewed over 2,600 articles in the medical literature, selecting 140 for further scrutiny, and eventually settled on thirteen that met their inclusion criteria. They extracted and pooled data from these studies to ascertain sensitivity, specificity and other parameters for the use of endoscopic ultrasound for pancreatic neuroendocrine diagnosis. They found that the pooled sensitivity of EUS in detecting pancreatic NETs was 87.2 percent; the pooled specificity was 98.0 percent.
The researchers conclude that endoscopic ultrasound appears to be a good way to establish the diagnosis for neuroendocrine tumors. There are limitations to this kind of study, but it is highly interesting and relevant – and certainly worthy of further follow-up and confirmation.
Dale O’Brien, MD