Pancreatic Cancer Research Studies


A.  Ontario Pancreas Cancer Study

Since 2003, the Ontario Pancreas Cancer Study (OPCS) has aimed to identify genetic, environmental, and lifestyle causes of pancreatic adenocarcinoma, the most common type of pancreas cancer. Results from this study will help us understand risk factors, patterns of inheritance, and discover possible genetic and biochemical markers of pancreas cancer. We are also interested in evaluating pancreas cancer screening techniques with the hope that, in the future, this disease may be detected at an early stage. As of February 2015, over 1800 people have enrolled in the study.

The study identifies and contacts newly diagnosed patients with pancreas cancer. We identify patients from pathology reports transmitted routinely to the Ontario Cancer Registry and we will contact these patients with the permission of their physician. Only patients who have had a biopsy or another surgical procedure will have a pathology report available.  We also recruit patients directly from the Wallace McCain Centre for Pancreatic Cancer clinic at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. We invite patients from all over Ontario to participate. We recruit patients with any family history of cancer, although some patients may have no other cases of cancer in their family.

The first stage of the OPCS involves obtaining information about family history, cancer treatment, and personal history/lifestyle from a questionnaire package that is mailed to participants. The second stage of the study involves collecting blood (or saliva), medical records, and any available tissue samples from previous biopsies or surgeries. These samples are used to investigate potential sources of genetic risk of pancreas cancer. Genetic counselling is available to every participant. If there is a family history of cancer, genetic counsellors provide information and make referrals for further genetic assessment and possibly genetic testing when appropriate.

The OPCS team greatly appreciates the participation of everyone involved. If you have any questions or would like to be involved with our research, please contact us at You can also call our toll free number at 1-877-586-5112 and leave a message. We are happy to answer your questions.

B. Genetic Study for Pancreatic Cancer

Our Registry is collaborating with several other pancreatic cancer registries in North America on a genetic study called PACGENE (Pancreatic Cancer Genetic Epidemiology). The goal of this study is to learn about the causes of pancreatic cancer — both genetic and environmental. So far, our centre has enrolled approximately 600 families across Canada for this research and study recruitment continues. Funding for the PACGENE Consortium has been received through a grant from the National Cancer Institute.

Which families are eligible to participate?

Any family with two or more biologically-related individuals with pancreatic adenocarcinoma is welcome to contact our registry. We recruit families where the cases of pancreatic cancer are living and/or deceased.

What does participation involve?

We ask details about the family history of cancer. We obtain the medical records (where possible) for each diagnosis of cancer in the family. We are interested in enrolling people with cancer as well as their healthy relatives.

All participants are asked to complete a questionnaire asking about lifestyle and various environmental risk factors. We also ask participants to provide a blood or saliva sample and/or a tissue sample (from previous surgical procedures) for genetic studies. The most helpful samples for genetic studies are from relatives who have the disease.

All participants have an opportunity to speak with a genetic counsellor about their family history and the details of the research. Participation in this study does not require a trip to Toronto.

Who do I contact to participate?

Please e-mail or call toll free at 1-877-586-5112 and leave us a message. 

C.  Pancreatic Cancer Screening Study – *enrollment is currently closed*

As with other types of cancers, early detection is associated with a better outcome. Unfortunately, the majority of pancreas cancer cases are diagnosed at late stages. This is mainly because the symptoms, if any, are non-specific. Different groups have been researching various screening tools for detecting early stage pancreatic cancer, but unfortunately, there are no proven clinical screening recommendations available at this time.

Our pancreatic cancer screening study began in 2003. The original objective was to determine the effectiveness of abdominal ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for early detection of the most common type of pancreatic cancer (adenocarcinoma) in high risk individuals. In 2009, we discontinued the use of abdominal ultrasound based on our findings that it did not detect potentially important pancreas lesions (abnormal changes) that were identified on MRI.

Recent publications on pancreatic cancer screening have indicated that contrast enhanced MRI is more effective at identifying and evaluating pancreatic cancer lesions than non-contrast enhanced MRI. As a result, we modified our protocol again in 2011 and began investigating the effectiveness of contrast enhanced MRI on a sub-group of high risk individuals.  The new protocol restricted the number of participants to the 60 highest-risk individuals (under age 75) already enrolled in our screening program.  These individuals are from Familial Pancreatic Cancer (FPC) families (two or more biologically-related individuals with pancreatic adenocarcinoma) with at least one first-degree relative (parent, child, or sibling) with pancreatic adenocarcinoma, or they have a BRCA2 mutation and at least one first-degree relative with pancreatic cancer.  Participants are asked to return every 6 months for scans. The contrast-MRI scan is performed at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto. Participants in this study must be residents of Ontario.

It is hoped that this study will shed light on better techniques that could be used to detect pancreatic tumours at the earliest possible stage.  We have not identified any significant pancreatic (or other) lesions since we began using contrast enhanced MRI. For more information about the pancreas cancer screening study, please e-mail or call toll free at 1-877-586-5112 and leave a message.

A generous donation was made by Pancreatic Cancer Canada to the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation to support our continued research in the early detection of pancreatic cancer. For more information about the Pancreatic Cancer Canada foundation, please go to

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