Pancreatic cancer is one of America’s deadliest cancers because symptoms often don’t appear until the patient is in a later stage of the disease.
By the time many patients have symptoms, the cancer may be too advanced, invading blood vessels that cannot be removed, or it has metastasized to the liver or lungs.
The most common symptoms of pancreatic cancer
Symptoms vary from person to person, but can include:
Pain in the upper back or upper abdomen
Loss of appetite
Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes, dark urine)
Treatment options for pancreatic cancer
Less than 20 percent of pancreatic cancer patients are candidates for surgery, which is the key for a cure.
“The only chance for a potential cure of pancreatic cancer is the combination of surgery, chemotherapy, plus or minus radiation,” explains Dr. Nguyen. “Without surgery, the only treatment is chemo and radiation and that is not curative. It’s only palliative, [meaning] it would only try to slow it down.”
Surgical options for pancreatic cancer
Piedmont offers several surgical options for patients with pancreatic cancer, including:
The Whipple procedure
Most pancreatic tumors are found in the head of the pancreas, making this surgical procedure the most common. During the Whipple procedure, the head of the pancreas, part of the small intestine, the gall bladder, part of the stomach and the lymph nodes near the head of the pancreas are removed.
For cancers that affect the tail and the body of the pancreas, surgeons can perform a distal pancreatectomy. In this procedure, both sections of the pancreas are removed, as well as the spleen.
Both of these surgeries can be performed robotically.
“The diagnosis of pancreas cancer is a devastating diagnosis,” says Dr. Nguyen. “But we have options — surgical and non-surgical options. For patients who are able to proceed with surgery, their life expectancy is longer.”