You’ll find international experts on pancreas care at OHSU. Our doctors, nurses and other specialists will work together to treat you as a whole person, not just a patient.
You will benefit from world-leading research. Our scientists are pioneering new ways to prevent, find and treat pancreatic conditions. They bring advancements to patients as quickly as possible.
Call the OHSU Digestive Health Center at 503-494-4373. We can direct you to the specialists you need.
If you are a provider seeking to refer a patient, please visit our Referral Service pages.
Conditions we treat
The pancreas is a gland, shaped like a long pear, tucked between the stomach and spine. It makes juices (enzymes) to digest food, and hormones (such as insulin) to control blood sugar.
OHSU specialists in gastroenterology treat patients with pancreatitis. We offer treatments for both types and all levels, from mild to severe.
What is pancreatitis? In pancreatitis, enzymes damage the pancreas, causing it to become inflamed (red and swollen). People with conditions such as diabetes, gallstones and certain genetic conditions are at higher risk.
Types of pancreatitis: Pancreatitis has two forms: acute (sudden) and chronic (ongoing). Both can have complications, such as damage to the pancreas.
- Acute pancreatitis: This form comes on suddenly. Most people get better over several days, though some cases are serious. Repeat episodes can lead to chronic pancreatitis.
- Chronic pancreatitis: This type typically comes on more slowly and may get worse over time. It may leave permanent scarring that can cause pain or impair digestion. It can lead to diabetes and pancreatic cancer.
Symptoms of pancreatitis: Signs can vary. Not all patients have pain, for example. But symptoms can include:
- Pain in the upper belly that may spread to the back
- Tender or bloated belly
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fast heartbeat
Patients with chronic pancreatitis may also have:
- Belly pain that may spread to the back, sometimes or all of the time
- Weight loss
- Greasy, smelly stools
As many as one in five patients with chronic pancreatitis have no pain. But others can have persistent pain in the upper belly that spreads to the back. It can be worse after meals.
Pain treatment may include:
- Care by our pancreas specialists
- Endoscopic or surgical treatments
- Care in OHSU’s Comprehensive Pain Center
OHSU offers some of the nation’s leading experts on pancreatic cancer.
- OHSU researchers are working to find new ways to prevent, detect and treat pancreatic cancer and other pancreatic conditions.
- A clinic at the Brenden-Colson Center for Pancreatic Care helps prevent pancreatic cancer in patients at high risk.
- Specialists and care teams at the Knight Cancer Institute include highly skilled gastroenterologists, radiologists and pathologists for a precise diagnosis.
- OHSU surgeons are able to offer surgery to more patients than ever.
OHSU specialists in gastroenterology treat patients with pancreatic cysts. Expert care is important because some cysts are or can become pancreatic cancer. Our providers will develop a treatment plan for your specific needs.
What are pancreatic cysts? Pancreatic cysts are small fluid-filled growths on or in the pancreas. Most are benign (not cancer). Some are cancer or can turn into cancer. Often, they are found when someone has a scan, such as an MRI or CT scan, of their belly for another reason.
Types of pancreatic cysts: They come in two types: neoplastic and nonneoplastic. Both have subtypes. It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis because treatment varies by type. Neoplastic cysts may need surgery, while some nonneoplastic cysts need no treatment.
Symptoms of pancreatic cysts: Most patients with a pancreatic cyst have no symptoms.
Those who do have symptoms may have:
- Ongoing belly pain that spreads to the back
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight loss
OHSU specialists understand the complexity of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors, also called PNETs. Our team can develop the best possible care plan.
What are pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors? These tumors make up less than 5% of pancreatic cancers. They start in cells that make hormones such as insulin and glucagon to control blood sugar. Compared with the most common form of pancreatic cancer, they:
- Tend to be slower-growing.
- Tend to be resectable (removable with surgery).
- Often have better outcomes.
- Are also called islet cell tumors because they form in cell clusters that look like islands.
People with multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1) syndrome, an inherited genetic condition, are at higher risk.
Signs and symptoms of PNETs:
- Functional PNETs: These tumors cause the pancreas to overproduce hormones. This can cause symptoms that lead to quicker diagnosis and better outcomes. Symptoms vary by hormone type.
- Gastrinomas make gastrin, which causes the stomach to make acid to digest food. Too much gastrin can lead to stomach ulcers (open sores) and pain.
- Insulinomas make insulin. Too much can lead to low blood sugar, which can cause confusion, fatigue, irritability, weakness and lightheadedness.
- Glucagonomas make glucagon, which raises blood sugar levels. Too much can cause diabetes, with symptoms such as thirst and frequent urination.
- Somatostatinomas make somatostatin, which controls other hormones. Too much can lead to high blood sugar, diarrhea, gallstones, jaundice, weight loss and foul-smelling stools.
- VIPomas produce vasoactive intestinal peptide. Too much can lead to severe watery diarrhea, thirst, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, weight loss, muscle weakness and belly pain or cramps.
- PPomas make pancreatic polypeptide, which helps regulate the pancreas. Symptoms can include watery diarrhea, belly pain and an enlarged liver.
- Nonfunctional PNETs: These tumors do not produce hormones. Sometimes there are no symptoms, or symptoms may be vague or like those of other illnesses. They may not be diagnosed until they’re advanced. Signs may include:
- Stomach upset
- Pain in the belly or back
- Weight loss
Services we offer
Please see the following to learn more about our services. You may contact departments directly or call the Digestive Health Center at 503-494-4373.
- Cancer care
- Clinical trials to try new therapies
- Digestive health services for pancreatitis and pancreatic cysts
- General surgery
- Surgical Oncology
- Pancreatic Cancer High Risk Clinic for screening and prevention
- Nutrition services
- Pancreas-kidney transplant for patients with diabetes and kidney disease
- Pain management for chronic pancreatitis
- Palliative care to ease pain and stress for any serious illness
- Total pancreatectomy with islet auto transplantation for patients with chronic pancreatitis
You will receive every service needed for your pancreatic condition. We offer the latest in diagnostic methods, early detection and surgical techniques.
Our providers also work in teams. You get the benefit of many experts working together. The team for a pancreatic cancer patient, for example, can include:
- Nurse navigator
- Physical therapist
- Pancreatic surgeon
- Vascular surgeon
- Transplant surgeon
- Chemotherapy doctor (medical oncologist)
- Radiation therapy doctor (radiation oncologist)
- Counselor to support mental health
- Palliative care specialist to ease pain and stress
- Clinical trials coordinator
Research and patient care
OHSU’s Brenden-Colson Center for Pancreatic Care is a research powerhouse. The center’s scientists are making strides in finding cancer early, easing suffering and improving quality of life. Our “center without walls” approach keeps lab work and patient care closely connected.
Center of Excellence
OHSU and the Brenden-Colson Center are a National Pancreatic Foundation Center of Excellence. This means we are recognized for:
- Treating each patient as a whole person
- Teams of specialists who work together
- A focus on the best outcomes and improving quality of life
The Brenden-Colson Center’s Oregon Pancreas Tissue Registry collects information and tissue samples from people with a family history of:
- Pancreatic cancer
- Pancreatic cysts
- Chronic pancreatitis
The registry helps researchers and doctors understand these conditions as they work to prevent pancreatic cancer. Doctors can also recommend screening for people at high risk.
Healthy Oregon Project
The Healthy Oregon Project, led by OHSU researchers, invites Oregon adults to get free screening for cancer risk. Cancer survivors are included, too.
- OHSU help to stop smoking or using tobacco
- Oregon Tobacco Quit Line, 800-784-8669
- Smoking and Tobacco Use, with resources to quit tobacco, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Control alcohol use:
Cancer and neuroendocrine tumors:
- Pancreatic Cancer, National Cancer Institute
- Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumors (Islet Cell Tumors), National Cancer Institute
- Pancreatic Cancer, American Cancer Society
- Pancreatic Cancer, CancerCare
- Pancreatic Cancer Action Network
- Lustgarten Foundation
- National Pancreas Foundation
- Pancreatica, Confronting Pancreatic Cancer
- Pancreatitis, MedlinePlus, National Library of Medicine
- Pancreatitis, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
- Pancreatic Cysts, National Pancreas Foundation
OHSU School of Medicine links: