Pancreatic cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancerous) cells are found in the tissues of the pancreas which is located behind the stomach.
Research is ongoing, but an exact cause of pancreatic cancer has not yet been established. People who have a close relative with pancreatic cancer have a higher risk of developing the cancer. A large number of cases seem to be caused by lifestyle factors including smoking, unhealthy diet and chemical exposure.
The symptoms of pancreatic cancer often go unnoticed early on. When symptoms do appear they may include:
Surgical Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer
Surgery may be suggested as a potential cure or to relieve symptoms to improve the patient's quality of life. The Whipple procedure is the surgery most often performed to remove a tumor from the duodenum (the first portion of the small bowel), bile duct or head of the pancreas.
Most surgeons perform no more than four or five Whipple procedures for pancreatic and bile duct cancer in an entire career. The OU Physicians chair of the surgery department performs nearly 50 Whipple surgeries each year. It is this experience and expertise that causes physicians throughout Oklahoma and surrounding states to refer their patients here. Our surgeon's experience performing numerous Whipple procedures has reduced his average time in surgery to about three and a half hours - half the time some surgeons require to complete the procedure. As a result, a patient is far less likely to require care in an intensive care unit. The surgical survival rate is also impacted by the experience and skill of the surgeon and the center in which the surgery is performed.
Our OU Physicians surgeon works with a team of doctors, nurses and other professionals who are knowledgeable, experienced and compassionate in post-operative management and care of Whipple procedure patients. If radiation and chemotherapy are required following surgery, the patient will receive care from highly skilled professionals utilizing state-of-the-art equipment. This combined expertise helps to ensure the best possible experience and outcomes for our surgical patients.
When is surgery recommended?
Generally if the cancer hasn't spread, surgical treatment, by resection or removal of the tumor, can be pursued. If the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes that are routinely removed during a given surgical procedure, surgery is usually still possible. Surgical replacement of the portal vein (a major blood vessel that carries blood to the liver) may also help make more patients eligible for surgery.
OU Physicians is the only physician group in the state doing research specifically directed at pancreatic cancer. Our team includes surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, radiologists, biostatisticians and basic scientists dedicated to clinical research in pancreatic cancer.
Clinical studies in pancreatic cancer are being developed and nearly every pancreatic cancer patient seen at OU Physicians is eligible for one of these trials.