Located behind your stomach and in front of your spine, the pancreas produces juices that help break down food and hormones that help control blood sugar levels. Cancer of the pancreas is a disease in which malignant cells form in the tissues of the pancreas.
Difficult to Detect Early
Pancreatic cancer is difficult to detect early because symptoms may be vague or you may not notice them. More advanced symptoms include yellowing of the skin and eyes, pain in the abdomen and back, weight loss and fatigue.
Because the pancreas is hidden behind other organs, healthcare providers cannot see or feel the tumors during routine exams. Because it is often found late and spreads quickly, pancreatic cancer can be difficult to treat.
How is Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosed?
Physicians use the following tests to confirm a diagnosis of cancer of the pancreas
- Physical exam
- CT scan
- Endoscopic ultrasound
- PET scan
- Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography
- Needle biopsy
Treatment for pancreatic cancer is based on its stage. It is difficult to stage pancreatic cancer accurately using imaging tests.
Doctors must do their best to decide before surgery whether there is a good chance the cancer can be completely removed. Surgeons usually consider an exocrine pancreatic cancer completely removable by surgery if it is staged as T1, T2, or T3. That means it doesn't extend far beyond the pancreas, especially into nearby large blood vessels (T4).
There is no accurate way to assess the tumor's spread to the lymph nodes before surgery.
Treatment for Pancreatic Cancer
Chemotherapy is the standard treatment for locally advanced cancers of the pancreas, in which the tumor has grown into nearby blood vessels and other tissues, but has not spread to the liver or distant organs.
Chemotherapy may shrink the cancer enough to allow it to be removed completely with surgery, or the treatment may help some patients live longer even if the cancer doesn't shrink enough to be able to be removed.
Giving chemotherapy and radiation together may be more effective in shrinking the cancer, but this combination has more side effects and can be harder to take than either treatment alone.
We use the most advanced radiation therapy technology to help patients fight pancreatic cancer with less scarring, shorter recovery times and a quicker return to productivity.
Clinical Trials and Research
As a teaching hospital affiliated with The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Medical School, Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center offers access to innovative treatments and technologies as soon as they are made available, whether in the development and testing phases, or after FDA approval. Patients who qualify also have the opportunity to participate in clinical trials of treatments that would not otherwise be available to them.