LIVINGSTON — If medical professionals spot a cyst in your pancreas while scanning you for other issues, that's an immediate red flag indicating that you're more at risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

And you'd be even more at risk if there's no real follow-up on that discovery.

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To ensure that patients with pancreatic cysts don't fall through the cracks, Saint Barnabas Medical Center has launched a unique platform that electronically identifies individuals with cysts that were uncovered during incidental procedures such as MRI or CT scans. Through the surveillance program, at-risk individuals are then contacted for a follow-up; the individual's doctor who originally ordered the scan or imaging would be notified as well.

"Most cysts, they have a precanerous potential — they need to be followed for life," said Dr. Russell Langan, SBMC's chief of surgical oncology and hepatopancreatobiliary surgery, and a surgical oncologist at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. "This platform allows for more appropriate follow-up of these patients — it sends patients and their physicians automatic reminders that they're due for their scan, they're due to see the specialist."

As of March 11, the hospital identified 136 patients through the program. Langan noted patients need to consent to be part of the program.

SBMC, an RWJBarnabas Health facility, partnered with healthcare technology company Eon to get the cloud-based management platform off the ground. It's the only institution in the country using such a tool for pancreatic cyst surveillance.

Beyond noting the initial discovery, the surveillance program also inputs a cyst's individual features, such as size. Certain features, when considered together, can suggest to doctors whether there's a risk of malignancy over time. Typically, Langan said, that crucial information is entered by a human into a spreadsheet.

"Because pancreatic surgery carries morbidity and a potential mortality rate, we want to ensure patients aren't undergoing unnecessary surgery, however when a pancreatic cyst does require surgery, we want to operate at the most opportune time," Langan added. "If cysts have a very low risk, that patient can just be followed."

Pancreatic cancer is usually detected in its later stages; for that reason, it often comes with a poor prognosis.

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