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Pancreatic cancer begins in the pancreas: the organ responsible for helping to break down essential nutrients and for producing certain hormones.
Pancreatic cancer is categorized into two main types:
- Exocrine pancreatic cancer is much more common and begins in gland cells. Nearly all exocrine pancreatic cancers are adenocarcinomas, or pancreatic adenocarcinoma.
- Pancreatic endocrine tumors are also known as islet cell tumors or neuroendocrine tumors (NET) and are more rare.
Pancreatic Cancer Risk Factors
The following factors increase the risk for pancreatic cancer:
- Chronic pancreatitis
- Family history of pancreatic cancer
- Smoking (the biggest risk factor)
- High-fat diets, excessive alcohol consumption and genetics are other possible risk factors that are still being studied
Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms
Early on, pancreatic cancer may not cause any symptoms. As the disease progresses, you may notice:
- Change in urine and fecal appearance (dark urine and pale stools); stool that floats in the toilet
- Jaundice (including the eyes)
- Loss of appetite, a “full feeling”
- Middle back pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Unexplained weight loss
- Upper-belly pain
Because these symptoms can also indicate much less serious conditions, see your physician if you experience any of them. Early detection and treatment are key to improving pancreatic cancer survival rates.
Pancreatic Cancer Treatment at Valley
The diagnosis and treatment of pancreatic cancer is complex and requires a multidisciplinary team approach. Your experienced team at Valley will include a hepatobiliary surgeon, interventional radiologists, gastroenterologists, medical oncologists and radiation oncologists.
Your treatment will depend on a variety of factors, including the stage of your cancer and your overall health.
Pancreatic Cancer Surgery at Valley
Surgically removing (known as a resection) the cancer is the only option currently for potentially curing pancreatic cancer.
However, surgery of the pancreas is difficult because of its location. The pancreas is located deep in the upper abdomen, behind the stomach, in front of the spine, and is surrounded by major blood vessels.
The type of surgery you will need depends on where in the pancreas the tumor is located, whether in the head, body or tail of the pancreas:
- The Whipple procedure (or, pancreaticoduodenectomy) generally involves removal of the gallbladder, bile duct, part of the small intestine, and head of the pancreas. Occasionally, a part of the main vein to the liver (the portal vein or superior mesenteric vein) may also need to be removed and reconstructed.
- Distal pancreatectomy is a procedure performed to remove the body and/or tail of the pancreas and preserve the head of the pancreas. Because the spleen and its blood supply are close to this portion of the pancreas, it is sometimes removed as well.
Distal pancreatectomy can be done using minimally invasive approaches either with laparoscopic or robotic techniques. Robotic techniques can increase the chance of saving the spleen as compared to the laparoscopic technique, due to more precise control.
Medical and Radiation Therapy
- The treatment of pancreatic cancer may also include chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. Your team will discuss with you whether this is recommended for your particular cancer.
Why Choose Valley for Pancreatic Cancer?
- Robotic surgery expertise: Valley has extensive experience with pancreatic surgery using both open and minimally invasive approaches. In fact, Valley was the first institution in the U.S. to perform the Whipple procedure robotically. More than half of our pancreatic procedures are performed minimally invasively using the da Vinci Surgical System. Our excellent results have been published and reported both nationally and internationally.
- Clinical trials: Valley’s cancer program offers patients access to clinical trials that provide options not widely available elsewhere.
- Mount Sinai partners: We are proud to have a partnership with the Mount Sinai Health System. This partnership offers our patients access to a greater number of clinical trial opportunities, as well as Mount Sinai specialists.