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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.
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:
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:
The risk factors for pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer are less known, but research suggests these may contribute to this type of cancer:
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.
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:
If your health care provider suspects pancreatic cancer, they’ll recommend a combination of pancreas function tests, which may include:
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:
The American Cancer Society provides a full list of questions to ask about pancreatic cancer.
For more information about the Norton Center for Abdominal and Digestive Surgery, call Carol Ranschaert, R.N., OCN, patient navigator, at:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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