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Pancreatic Cancer

Approximately 44,000 cases of pancreatic cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year, and pancreatic cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer deaths. Although pancreatic cancer is a very serious diagnosis for patients to face, the latest treatment options are available through Avera Cancer Institute, so that patients do not need to be referred far away from home. Pancreatic cancer usually progresses symptomless, and when symptoms do appear, the disease is often far advanced. Pancreatic cancer easily spreads, because of the proximity to the stomach, small intestine, liver, and major blood vessels, as well as the interaction between digestive organs. For these reasons, the prognosis is poor. However, for certain patients, surgery, chemotherapy or radiation may add years to their life and relieve pain or other symptoms. Adenocarcinoma of the pancreas is the most common type of pancreatic tumor, accounting for about 85 percent of cases. Neuroendocrine pancreatic tumors are more likely to appear in the tail of the pancreas.

Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms

Pancreatic cancer often progresses symptomless. When symptoms occur they may include:

  • Dark urine and clay-colored stools
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Jaundice (a yellow color in the skin, mucous membranes or eyes)
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain or discomfort in the upper part of abdomen

Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis

  • CT scan or abdominal ultrasound is often ordered if a pancreatic mass is suspected, and more precise methods can confirm the diagnosis and stage the cancer
  • Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) combines endoscopic and ultrasound, and this technology can be used to more closely examine a mass and obtain a needle biopsy
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) can also be used in diagnosing and staging pancreatic cancer. Avera McKennan is one of few sites in the state and region offering both EUS and ERCP.

Pancreatic Cancer Treatment

  • Surgery: Surgical resection is the only known curative treatment of pancreatic cancer.
    • If cancer is in the head of the pancreas, certain patients may be candidates for the Whipple procedure, which is removal of the head of the pancreas, part of the stomach, the duodenum of the small intestine, a portion of the bile duct, and the gall bladder. Then, the remaining parts of these organs are reconnected to the small intestine. Avera McKennan is recognized by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network as being a high-volume center for Whipple procedures. High-volume centers are recommended due to the intricacy of this surgical procedure.
    • If cancer is in the tail of the pancreas, the surgical approach is to remove the tail with or without the spleen.
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy

Survivorship care

After treatment, pancreatic cancer patients are connected with resources as they enter the survivorship phase of the cancer journey. Patients can take part in A Time To Heal, a support program for all cancer diagnoses.