What is Pancreatic Cancer?
The pancreas is a fish shaped organ that lies in the back of the abdomen behind the stomach and small intestine. It has 2 main functions, to regulate blood sugar and to secrete enzymes into the intestine that help you digest proteins, sugars and fats. Cancer of the pancreas occurs when cells within the pancreas develop a mutation. This mutation causes the cells grow, forming a mass. Symptoms can vary depending on what part of the pancreas is involved. When the tumor is located in the head of the pancreas patients usually experience yellowing of the skin, called jaundice. When the tumor is in the body or tail, pain is often the first symptom.
How Common is Pancreatic Cancer?
Approximately 50,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year. The majority of people are diagnosed with adenocarcinoma.
What are the Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer?
Symptoms of pancreatic cancer can vary depending on what part of the pancreas is involved. When the tumor is located in the head of the pancreas patients usually experience yellowing of the skin, called jaundice. This can also be associated with darkening of the urine or lightening of the stool. When the tumor is in the body or tail of the pancreas, pain is often the first symptom.
How is Pancreatic Cancer Treated?
Most pancreatic adenocarcinoma is treated with a combination of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. The timing of each treatment may vary from patient to patient.
How is Pancreatic Cancer Treated at TriHealth?
At TriHealth, we believe in a multidisciplinary approach to treating pancreatic cancer. This means coordination of your care to include multiple specialists working together for one common goal – you. This multidisciplinary care starts at the time of your diagnosis. Your GI or primary care physician will notify our nurse navigator. The nurse navigator will then schedule you an appointment in our pancreatic cancer multidisciplinary clinic and schedule any additional tests that you may need prior to your office visit. In our multidisciplinary clinic you will meet with multiple specialists who will be involved in your care. This will likely include a medical oncologist, a radiation oncologist and a surgical oncologist. We also have nutritionists and licensed genetic councilors available at this appointment. Together, these specialists will develop a comprehensive treatment plan for you.
Surgery for Pancreatic Cancer
Surgery can be an important part of treating pancreatic cancer. The specific surgical procedure depends on the location of the tumor. Cancers that are located in the head of the pancreas require a surgery called a Whipple procedure. Cancers that are located in the tail of the pancreas require a surgery called a distal pancreatectomy.
TriHealth is a high-volume center for pancreatic cancer. TriHealth surgeons are experts in pancreatic surgery. TriHealth was the first healthcare system in the region to perform the Whipple procedure using the minimally invasive robotic surgical technique. By making smaller incisions, patients recover quicker and have less complications.
This procedure was named after Dr. Allan Whipple, a surgeon who perfected the procedure in the 1930’s. The surgery was devised to remove tumors located in the head of the pancreas and sometimes in the bile duct or the beginning part of the small intestines known as the duodenum.
To perform this surgery, the tumor will be removed along with the head of the pancreas, the first part of small intestine, the end of the common bile duct, and the gallbladder. The intestine is then reconnected to the remaining pancreas, bile duct, and stomach. This allows the pancreatic enzymes and bile to flow into your small intestines as before. TriHealth was the first healthcare system to perform this surgery in a minimally invasive fashion with the use of robotic surgical technology.
Distal Pancreatectomy Procedure
The distal pancreatectomy procedure involves removing the body and tail of the pancreas. In most cases the spleen (a nearby organ that helps the body fight infection and stores blood for your body) must be removed too. This is due to its close proximity to the pancreas as well as its shared blood vessels and lymphatics. The goal of surgery is to completely remove the tumor as well as any lymph nodes that may be near the tumor.
At TriHealth, most distal pancreatectomies can be performed in a minimally invasive fashion with the use of laparoscopy or robotic surgical technology.