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At the Henry Ford Cancer Institute, we provide compassionate, expert care. We’ll guide you and your family through the process, including diagnosis, treatment and follow-up care as a survivor.
Our team of doctors, pancreatic cancer surgeons, physical and occupational therapists, radiation and medical oncologists and nurses will make sure you have all the information and support you need. However, at any point during your journey of care, you may have some questions – some of which come up more frequently than others, so we’ve compiled a list of frequently asked questions and answers to get you started.
Pancreatic Cancer Basics
Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms and Diagnosis
Pancreatic Cancer Treatment
An estimated 53,670 people are diagnosed each year with pancreatic cancer. There are several factors that can impact a person’s chance, or likeliness, of developing pancreatic cancer, such as these risk factors:
Pancreatic cancer is a genetic disease, which means it is the result of changes, or mutations, in DNA that can either be inherited (from our parents) or acquired (change after birth.) Familial pancreatic cancer is a term used to describe families with an abnormally high rate of pancreatic cancer, although, inherited genes only account for about 10% of all pancreatic cancers.
If you have a first-degree relative who has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, or if you have family members who carry certain genetic mutations, you may be at a higher risk for developing pancreatic cancer. Our team can assess your risk and offer genetic testing and counseling, if appropriate.
Those who are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in their adult years are at higher risk for developing pancreatic cancer, although the reason for this is not yet known. However, type 2 diabetes that is linked with pancreatic cancer is often related to being overweight or obese.
It is not yet clear if type 1 (juvenile) diabetes poses a similar risk.
Doctors are continuously working to improve our overall education and understanding on pancreatic cancer, including ways to prevent it, treatment methods, and how to provide the best care for those who have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Modern research on pancreatic cancer includes using genetics for early detection and responding with targeted therapies and personalized treatment options. To progress such research, the Henry Ford Pancreatic Cancer Center is leading a global, multi-institutional research consortium.
Pancreatic cancer is a disease in which cancerous cells form in the tissue of the pancreas – a large gland located behind the stomach and in front of the spine. The pancreas produces digestive juices and hormones that regulate blood sugar.
Because of the deep location of the pancreas, tumors of the pancreas are difficult to detect which makes early identification of pancreatic cancer so difficult.
Pancreatic cancer can spread (metastasize) to other organs in the body. It most often spreads to the abdomen and liver first. Pancreatic cancer can also spread to the lungs, other organs, bones and brain. The further pancreatic cancer spreads in the body, the more difficult it can be to treat.
Pancreatic cancer is considered resectable (tumor can be removed with surgery) if the cancer is limited to the pancreas. Pancreatic cancer that has spread to other organs and cannot be removed with surgery is referred to as unresectable.
Many people do not experience any noticeable symptoms of pancreatic cancer at an early stage. Symptoms may not arise until the cancer has progressed to an advanced stage and possibly spread to other areas of the body.
Some symptoms that could be signs of pancreatic cancer include:
Pancreatic cancer is among the most aggressive of all cancer types. The disease is often diagnosed at later stages due to the difficulties surrounding early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. With a later diagnosis, the disease have may have already spread to other sites in the body.
In 2010, approximately 43,000 people in the United States were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and approximately 36,000 people died of this disease. While significant advancements in the treatment of pancreatic cancer have been made since that time, these numbers demonstrate the aggressiveness and difficulty of diagnosing pancreatic cancer.
The earlier pancreatic cancer is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat. At Henry Ford, our multidisciplinary pancreatic cancer team has a proven track record as a major center for treating pancreatic tumors. Our team will meet with you to go over your treatment options, which may include:
Just like any other form of cancer, chemotherapy can be used to stop or slow the growth of cancer cells. Depending on the state and progression of the pancreatic cancer, chemotherapy may be used before or after surgery and for differing reasons, especially if the cancer is advanced and cannot be removed completely with surgery.
Your medical oncologist will outline your chemotherapy treatment options and what to expect during your chemotherapy treatment.
The nature and extent of surgery for pancreatic cancer is dependent upon the location and size of the cancerous tumor. However, for tumors that were previously considered inoperable, Henry Ford offers NanoKnife procedures. This technology uses irreversible electroporation to send electrical pulses through small probes placed into a tumor. This causes cell lysis, killing cancer cells while avoiding damage to the surrounding area of the pancreas.
If you have a tumor that has not spread beyond the pancreas, you may qualify for potentially curative surgery.
Depending on the location of your tumor, your surgeon may offer you one of these surgical options:
Based on your pre-operative tests and imaging, patients may be offered different treatment options prior to surgery in attempts to shrink the tumor as much as possible. Those options may include chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination of both.
Our team will work with you to determine if surgery will be a part of your treatment plan, based on recommendations from our tumor board.
Our entire multidisciplinary pancreatic cancer team meets with you to plan your treatment needs in a single visit, saving you time and reducing frustration from multiple medical appointments. Your team will include:
This team will be there for you throughout your treatment for medical and personal needs that may arise along the way.
Contact the cancer team 24/7 by calling
Please call 911 if you have an emergency or urgent medical question.
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