Diagnosis and Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer
Many patients experience symptoms for many months and may see several physicians before a diagnosis. These patients sometimes are diagnosed with a more advanced disease stage. Although the disease may be incurable, today's treatments and our expert surgeons, gastroenterologists, oncologists and radiation therapists can provide an improved length and quality of life.
Several tests can be done to assist in the diagnosis of cancer of the pancreas, including:
Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) -- a specialized technique to study the bile ducts, pancreatic duct and gallbladder
Despite testing, a diagnosis may remain elusive and your physician may recommend an operation, even without a biopsy-proven diagnosis.
Each patient first must be evaluated to ensure the tumor is limited to the pancreas and can be removed without leaving any tumor behind. The patient also must meet criteria for a major operation. The patient’s overall health is more important than age when determining the patient’s suitability for the operation.
The type of operation performed depends on the tumor location. Tumors in the head of the pancreas head require a pancreaticoduodenectomy (Whipple operation). The procedure involves removing the head of the pancreas, the duodenum (first part of the small intestine immediately beyond the stomach) and part of the bile duct. Tumors in the body or tail of the pancreas require a distal pancreatectomy (removal of the pancreas body and tail and often the spleen). This operation sometimes can be performed laparoscopically, depending on surgeon experience. Houston Methodist Hospital’s specialists are highly skilled in performing these surgeries. Houston Methodist Hospital’s rates for surgical blood loss, operation duration, hospital stay length and survival are among the best in the nation.
Although Houston Methodist Hospital has a team of health care professionals that treats cancer of the pancreas, the physicians and surgeons who provide your care will remain the same. Your cancer may be cured, depending on the stage of your tumor.
Houston Methodist’s experts usually can perform these procedures in less than three hours. Most patients with normal blood counts before surgery do not require transfusions. Patients tend to get out of bed the day after surgery, and half go home within seven days following their operations.
Depending on tumor stage, your physicians may recommend chemotherapy and radiation. Prognosis can be good for patients with early stage disease.