Pancreatic cancer develops between your stomach and spine deep in your abdomen, in an organ that produces enzymes to help break down food and the hormones insulin and glucagon that control blood sugar levels.
Pancreatic cancer is fairly rare but has one of the highest fatality rates for cancer: The disease does not usually cause noticeable signs in its earliest stages and often goes undetected, despite the tumor wrapping itself around arteries, veins, nerves, and the bile duct. Diagnosis is also challenging given the pancreas’ location and intricate role regulating the body.
But we’re not backing down, and neither should you. We’re continuing to develop new ways to manage and cure the disease, including targeted therapies and new methods for performing surgeries and delivering chemotherapy and radiation. While we can’t remove all tumors, our experienced surgeons have success with even the most complex cases—even those considered inoperable by other doctors.
Pancreatic Cancer Care
Pancreatic cancer is a challenging disease and often advanced at the time of diagnosis—requiring strategic planning and sophisticated care. Our program features:
- Experienced Team: The best care comes from highly experienced specialists working together, with a full range of services, tools and therapies. We treat the largest number of pancreatic patients in the D.C. metro area, and our nationally and internationally known doctors excel at diagnosing and treating even the most unusual and complex cases. You get individualized, comprehensive care, from a team that discusses cases regularly and includes:
- Interventional radiologists
- Medical oncologists (specializing in pancreatic and other gastrointestinal cancers)
- Radiation oncologists
- Latest Tools and Techniques: We helped develop or refine many of the ways pancreatic cancer is diagnosed and treated, and we continue to make improvements. We have particular experience with:
- Minimally Invasive Surgery: including the Whipple procedure, the most common but also most complex pancreatic operation
- EUS (endoscopic ultrasound) and ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography): advanced diagnostic techniques
- CyberKnife: precisely targeted radiation with fewer side effects
- Research and Clinical Trials: In addition to providing top care, our specialists are pursuing new and better ways to diagnose and treat pancreatic cancer. Their involvement with research provides (when appropriate) access to the latest, most promising clinical trials—many of them not otherwise widely available. Some of their clinical trials include:
- Looking at targeted therapies for specific characteristics of a tumor, to potentially provide more potent but less toxic treatment
- Using CyberKnife with chemotherapy to shrink tumors more effectively so patients are eligible for surgery immediately following some surgeries with heated chemotherapy, to prevent the return of cancer
- Making cancer cells more susceptible to radiation
- Testing tumors to determine whether chemotherapy will work
- Dedicated Support: A fulltime program coordinator/nurse navigator serves as an additional resource, helping you and your family make appointments with specialists, coordinate care, get your questions answered and find appropriate clinical trials. We also offer a special palliative care team, to provide pain relief and physical, psychological and spiritual comfort.
Benign and Precancerous Pancreatic Growths
Diagnostic tests for pancreatic cancer may find other growths, some of them benign and some that can turn into cancer (precancerous). They may or may not require treatment and include:
- Serous Cystic Neoplasms (SCNs): Also known as serous cystadenomas, these tumors are almost always benign, and most don’t require treatment unless they grow large or cause symptoms.
- Mucinous cystic neoplasms (MCNs): Also known as mucinous cystadenomas, these slow-growing tumors are not cancerous, though some can become so. Whether they are removed or simply monitored depends on: their size, rate of growth and imaging test appearance, as well as possible symptoms.
- Intraductal Papillary Mucinous Neoplasms (IPMNs): These benign tumors grow in the pancreatic ducts. Like MCNs, they can become cancerous over time, with similar criteria about whether to monitor or remove.