Pancreatic Cancer Care That’s Focused on You

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Pancreatic Cancer Care

A diagnosis of pancreatic cancer can be jarring, both for you and your family. Norton Cancer Institute, the leading provider of cancer care in Louisville and Southern Indiana, offers same-day appointments for newly diagnosed pancreatic cancer patients so you don’t have to wait and wonder what’s going to happen.

This kind of cancer affects your pancreas, a gland in your abdomen that aids in digestion. Pancreatic cancer symptoms include nausea, bloating, fatigue, jaundice and lack of appetite. Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Pancreatic cancer survival rates are low, because the disease is difficult to detect in the early stages.

At Norton Cancer Institute, you’ll have access to a multidisciplinary team of specialists, including medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, gastroenterologists, thoracic surgeons and others to provide comprehensive care. Our physicians are board-certified and fellowship-trained leaders in their field. They’re at the forefront of developing innovative approaches to getting patients back to living their lives.

Pancreatic cancer rarely is detected early. If you have a family history of pancreatic cancer, be sure to tell your health care provider. Diabetes accompanied by weight loss, jaundice or upper abdominal pain can be a sign of pancreatic cancer.

What Is Pancreatic Cancer?

The pancreas is a large gland that makes digestive fluids and hormones that control blood sugar and digestion. It sits just behind the stomach so the digestive fluids can flow down a tube (pancreatic duct) into the duodenum. The duodenum is the first part of the small bowel and is joined to the stomach.

Pancreatic cancer happens when cells of the pancreas change and grow out of control. Most pancreatic cancer starts in the ducts, or tubes, that connect the pancreas to other organs such as the stomach.

There are two main types of pancreatic tumors:

  1. Exocrine tumors: This is the most common kind of pancreatic cancer. More than 90% of all pancreatic tumors are exocrine tumors. Exocrine cells make digestive enzymes. The most common type of pancreatic cancer is exocrine adenocarcinoma, which begins in the cells that line the pancreas.
  2. Neuroendocrine tumors: Less than 10% of pancreatic tumors are neuroendocrine tumors (NETs). Endocrine cells make blood sugar-stabilizing hormones like insulin. Islet cell carcinoma is another name for an NET. Islets are groups of cells in the pancreas that assist in making hormones.

No one knows exactly what causes pancreatic cancer, but there are some risk factors that could make it more likely that you will develop one of these types of cancers.

Risk factors for pancreatic adenocarcinoma include:

  • Tobacco use
  • Overweight
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Exposure to certain chemicals
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Inherited genetic syndromes

The risk factors for pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer are less known, but research suggests these may contribute to this type of cancer:

  • Inherited genetic syndromes: There are three genetic syndromes that may increase a person’s risk of developing a pancreas NET — multiple endocrine neoplasia Type 1 (MEN1), neurofibromatosis Type 1 (NF1), and von Hippel-Lindau syndrome (VHL). These syndromes can be passed from generation to generation in a family.

There are other potential risk factors, but the scientific evidence supporting the connection to a pancreas NET is weaker. These include smoking, alcohol, family history of cancer, diabetes and chronic pancreatitis, which is inflammation of the pancreas.

Signs and Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer

Unfortunately, there are not many early warning signs of pancreatic cancer. The pancreas is deep inside the body, so small tumors can’t be seen or felt by doctors during routine physical exams. Sometimes symptoms do not appear until the cancer begins to affect other organs in the body. Some people develop vague symptoms up to one year before they receive a diagnosis.

Many patients report that their first pancreatic cancer symptoms were back pain or stomach pain. These symptoms can come and go at first, but may get worse after meals or when you lie down.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of your skin)
  • Dark urine
  • Light-colored stool
  • Upper abdominal pain
  • Middle back pain
  • Fatigue
  • Itchy skin
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Gas or bloating
  • Lack of appetite
  • Blood clots
  • Weight loss
  • New-onset diabetes
  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)

Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis

If your health care provider suspects pancreatic cancer, they’ll recommend a combination of pancreas function tests, which may include:

  • Imaging tests such as
    • CT scans
    • MRI
    • Positron emission tomography (PET) scans
    • Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS)
  • Blood tests
  • LaparoscopyThis surgery helps doctors determine the extent of pancreatic cancer and whether removal is possible. During this procedure, a surgeon creates a few small incisions (cuts) in your abdomen and inserts a long tube with a camera on the end. This allows them to see inside your abdomen and look for abnormalities.
  • Genetic testingThis can tell you if there’s a hereditary reason you developed pancreatic cancer and help you understand whether there is a chance you could pass it to your children. It also can help your health care provider determine which type of treatment will be most effective for you.

After Diagnosis: What Happens Next?

You may feel overwhelmed after a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Here are some questions to ask your health care team about pancreatic cancer that might give you a picture of what will happen next:

  • What tests will I need to have?
  • Who will do these tests?
  • Where and when will they be done?
  • Who can explain the tests to me?
  • How and when will I get the results?
  • Who will explain the results to me?
  • What do I need to do next?

The American Cancer Society provides a full list of questions to ask about pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic Cancer Care

For more information about the Norton Center for Abdominal and Digestive Surgery, call Carol Ranschaert, R.N., OCN, patient navigator, at:

(502) 629-6416

Having a multidisciplinary team on your side is key when you have a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. This means having expertise from many areas including surgery, oncology (cancer medicine), genetic counseling and more.

Cancer affects the patient as well as their circle of friends and family. That’s why Norton Cancer Institute offers a range of cancer support options for patients, their families and their caregivers.

Pancreatic cancer patient support includes:

  • Norton Cancer Institute Patient Navigator Program connects cancer patients and their families with oncology-certified nurses who can offer emotional support and other resources.
  • Educational sessions offer information about a variety of topics, including meditation, nutrition and financial considerations.
  • Norton Cancer Institute Resource Centers help address patients’ emotional and physical needs, including support groups, art and music therapies, massage, and more.

Pancreatic Cancer Treatment Options

Pancreatic cancer is easier to treat when it is caught early, but there are treatments and therapies to control the disease and help patients live longer and more comfortably.

Which treatment your health care team chooses will depend on factors such as:

  • Your overall health
  • The stage your cancer is in when it is detected
  • Whether the cancer has spread
  • Your preferences
  • Potential side effects of treatment
  • Impact on your quality of life

Standard cancer treatments may be used alone or in combination. Each treatment has unique benefits, limitations and side effects, which your health care provider will explain.

Treatments for pancreatic cancer include:

  • Surgery, which can remove all or part of the pancreas and surrounding organs
  • Radiation therapy, which uses a beam of energy to destroy cancer cells
  • Chemotherapy, which uses strong medications that go throughout the body and kill cancer cells
  • Targeted therapy, which is similar to chemotherapy but the medications are designed to kill specific cancer cells in the body, as well as block growth and limit the spread of the cancer
  • Immunotherapy, which boosts the body’s natural defense system to go after cancer cells.

You might qualify to participate in a clinical trial for pancreatic cancer patients. Norton Center for Abdominal and Digestive Surgery clinical trials offer patients the chance to be treated with brand new medications, procedures or therapies.

Prognosis and Survival Rates

Pancreatic cancer survival rates can give you a general idea of what percentage of people with the same type and stage of cancer as you are still alive a certain amount of time (usually five years) after they were diagnosed. Survival rates are based on data from large groups of pancreatic cancer patients. These numbers can’t tell you how long you will live, but they may give you a better understanding of how likely it is that your treatment will be successful.

Pancreatic cancer prognosis has improved over the last several decades. Prognosis means the likely course of the disease. The earlier the cancer is found, the better your chances at remission (no more signs of pancreatic cancer).

According to the American Cancer Society:

  • For all stages of pancreatic cancer combined, the five-year survival rate is 12%.
  • The five-year relative survival rate for localized pancreatic cancer is 44%. Localized means the cancer has not spread outside the pancreas.
  • Fewer than 20% of patients’ tumors are confined to the pancreas.
  • About 80% of patients are diagnosed after the disease has reached an advanced stage, making the disease more difficult to treat.
  • Approximately 15% to 20% of pancreatic tumors can be surgically removed; if found before metastasis, these tumors tend to show better patient survival rates.

Coping With Pancreatic Cancer

A diagnosis of pancreatic cancer can be stressful for patients and their families. It is important to have ways to cope with the situation, including emotional support and community resources.

Norton Cancer Institute offers patient support, including:

If the cancer cannot be controlled, the disease may be called “advanced” or “terminal.” In this case, treatments may not be effective. People who have advanced cancer and who are expected to live less than six months may want to consider hospice care. Hospice care is designed to provide the best possible quality of life for people who are near the end of life. Hospice care options include care at home, a special hospice center or other health care location. Home health nurses and hospital equipment for the home can allow you to stay comfortably in your own home.

It’s important to have honest conversations with your health care team and family about your wishes for palliative care and end of life care.

Preventing Pancreatic Cancer

There is no sure way to prevent cancer from forming. There are some things that may affect whether you develop cancer that you have no control over such as:

  • Genetics and family history
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Race

Some things you can control that may lower your risk for developing pancreatic cancer include:

If you have a family history of pancreatic cancer or pancreatitis, tell your health care provider.

Caring for the Whole Person

We offer a complete array of services for pancreatic cancer patients. Pancreatic cancer requires specific care from trained health care professionals. Support after diagnosis and during treatment is key, and you will find all of this and more with Norton Cancer Institute.

  • Norton Cancer Institute has nine outpatient locations and multiple infusion centers in Louisville and surrounding counties and Southern Indiana. We have three radiation centers located just off major interstates, with free, self-service parking and valet parking.
  • Our gastrointestinal cancer patient navigator guides you through the treatment process. The navigator is a registered nurse and advocate for patients and families who can help coordinate scheduling to minimize your visits. The navigator provides information and support throughout your diagnosis, treatment and beyond.
  • The Norton Cancer Institute multidisciplinary approach to cancer care means you’ll have access to multiple specialists, including medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgical oncologists, interventional radiologists, interventional gastroenterologists, researchers, geneticists and dietitians.
  • We pull together providers from various disciplines to help identify the best treatment for you. At Norton Cancer Institute review boards, you will be considered for innovative clinical trials, immunotherapy, minimally invasive procedures, state-of-the-art radiation and advanced diagnostics.
Gastrointestinal Cancer Team

Why Choose Norton Cancer Institute

More patients in Louisville and Southern Indiana choose Norton Cancer Institute than any other provider in the area. We provide compassionate care for the whole person, not just the cancer.

Our Norton Cancer Institute oncologists are also researchers and principal investigators, offering patients sophisticated experience in the latest treatments and access to more than 200 clinical trials.

  • Access to more than 100 specialists, including board-certified and fellowship-trained oncologists
  • Multidisciplinary setting, meaning you get the benefit of opinions from multiple specialists across Norton Healthcare and often can schedule appointments for the same day in the same location
  • Immunotherapies such as CAR-T cell therapy, genetic therapies tailored to combat the unique genetic makeup of your cancer and the latest in surgical treatments, chemotherapy and radiotherapy
  • State-of-the-art Norton Cancer Institute Genomics Lab offering highly specialized testing that makes it possible to tailor advanced treatments based on a tumor’s specific genetic composition
  • Robotic-assisted bronchoscopy for minimally invasive lung biopsies that can reach more parts of the lung without major surgery
  • Medicare, Medicaid and most major commercial insurance accepted
  • At Norton Specialty Pharmacy, patients receive regular consultations on their medications and treatment plan, making sure they get their prescriptions quickly and accurately. Our specialty pharmacists collaborate closely with your oncology team.
  • Use your free Norton MyChart account to communicate with your provider, manage appointments, refill prescriptions, get on the wait list for an earlier appointment and more anytime from a mobile device or computer

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