About Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreatic cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer death in men and women in the U.S. According to the American Cancer Society, it is estimated that 45,220 new cases of pancreatic cancer will be diagnosed nationwide in 2013.
Pancreatic cancer occurs when normal cells of the pancreas grow out of control within the pancreas. The pancreas an organ located just behind the stomach. Its two main functions are to produce insulin in just the right amount to maintain constant glucose, or sugar, levels in the body and to produce enzymes to promote food digestion. Adenocarcinoma of the pancreas is the most common type of pancreatic cancer.
My Knight Cancer Story
In 2004, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. My tumor was massive and involved all the blood vessels. Because of its location, doctors told me surgery was not an option. I got more opinions, but the news was always bad: I had no chance of a cure.
My Knight Cancer Story
The pain that was keeping me awake at night turned out to be a rare type of cancer.
Read Alan's Pancreatic Cancer Story
My Knight Cancer Story
Summoning the courage to fight against cancer is no easy task. I had to do that twice in 6 months.
Pancreatic Cancer Treatment Options
We specialize in caring for patients with cancers of the pancreas.
As an integrated cancer institute, we work together to develop an individualized treatment plan for each patient. Your treatment plan for pancreatic cancer may include:
- Radiation therapy
For the best outcome, you should be treated by a surgeon who has performed many pancreatic surgeries. In general, people having this type of surgery do better when it is performed at a hospital that does at least 20 pancreatic surgeries per year. At OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, 90 percent of our pancreatic surgeries are successful and lead to a complete resection due in part to our advanced techniques as well as our team approach with vascular surgeons.
There are a number of possible surgeries that can be performed to treat pancreatic cancer. If you need surgery, your doctor may remove your tumor and take out sections of the entire pancreas, portions of the small intestine, or both. The type of surgery your doctor recommends depends on the type of cancer in your pancreas, the stage of the cancer, the location and size of the tumor, and your overall health.
Pancreatic cancer surgery may be performed for two different goals:
Potentially curative surgery is used when imaging tests suggest that it is possible to remove all the cancer.The Whipple procedure (pancreaticoduodenectomy) is the most common surgical operation to remove a cancer of the exocrine pancreas.
Palliative surgery may be done if imaging tests show the tumor is too widespread to be completely removed. This type of surgery may be done to relieve pancreatic cancer pain or other symptoms or to prevent certain complications liked a blocked bile duct or intestinal tract.
Several studies have shown that removing only part of the cancer does not help patients to live longer. Pancreatic cancer surgery is one of the most difficult operations a surgeon can do. It is also one of hardest for patients to undergo. There may be complications, and it may take several weeks to recover. Your doctor and other members of your healthcare team will discuss the potential benefits and risks of pancreatic cancer surgery with you.
Chemotherapy is the use of anticancer drugs to treat cancerous cells. In most cases, chemotherapy works by interfering with the cancer cell’s ability to grow or reproduce. Different groups of drugs work in different ways to fight cancer cells. Your oncologist will recommend a treatment plan specific to your type of pancreatic cancer. Chemotherapy may be given alone, or in combination with surgery and radiation therapy.
Other medication may be given to relieve symptoms and/or reduce pain. If chemotherapy is the best option, you’ll see a medical oncologist, a doctor who specializes in treating cancer with drugs and other therapies.
Medical treatments for pancreatic cancer may include:
- Neoadjuvant therapy
- Adjuvant therapy
- Chemotherapy and/or biologic therapy
- Participation in clinical trials
External radiation (external beam therapy) is a treatment that precisely sends high levels of radiation directly to the cancer cells. The machine is controlled by the radiation therapist. Since radiation is used to kill cancer cells and to shrink tumors, special shields may be used to protect the tissue surrounding the treatment area. Radiation treatments are painless and usually last a few minutes. Radiation therapy may be given alone, or in combination with surgery and chemotherapy to treat pancreatic cancer.