Our Approach to Pancreatic Cancer

Linda Jin, MD, a general surgery resident, and William Hawkins, MD, a professor of surgery, both at Washington University School... Linda Jin, MD, a general surgery resident, and William Hawkins, MD, a professor of surgery, both at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, work in the lab. Hawkins is principal investigator of a $10.4 million grant aimed at developing new treatments for pancreatic cancer.

Patients who come to the Siteman Cancer Center for treatment of pancreatic cancer are seen by a team of Washington University Physicians — surgical, medical and radiation oncologists — often during the same visit. The treatment team is supported by nutritionists and psychologists. Experienced nurses then spend time with you, answering your questions and putting you in touch with resources that may help during this stressful time. These nurses offer patient literature on your condition, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery and other related issues. As a unique feature of your care, we also offer the services of a palliative care specialist who can help you fit treatment into your own special circumstances, if needed.

The most common pancreatic cancer is called “pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma” or PDAC. It is usually this type of cancer which is being described when the term “pancreatic cancer” is used. Other less common cancers of the pancreas include PNETS (pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors), SPENs (solid pseudopapillary epithelial neoplasms) and GISTs (gastrointestinal stromal tumors). These rarer tumors have a more favorable outlook than PDACs. Siteman is one of the top five high-volume pancreatic treatment centers in the United States. You benefit because treatment performed in specialized, high-volume centers produces better outcomes. The experts at the Siteman Cancer Center treat on average 320 pancreatic cancer cases a year.

Medical oncologists are conducting innovated clinical trials that are showing promising results. The majority of pancreatic cancer treatment is in novel therapies. Approximately 80 percent of treatment is systemic and involves chemotherapy, immunotherapy and targeted treatments to specific cancer characteristics. Surgery is the only curative treatment for pancreatic cancers. However surgery cannot be performed in all patients with pancreatic cancer. When PDAC has spread to other organs, surgery is not an option.

Radiation can attack cancer cells that may be left behind after surgery in hard-to-access areas around blood vessels. For the past few years, radiation oncologists at Siteman have been supplementing chemotherapy after surgery with radiation for patients with pancreatic cancer to deliver radiation more precisely to the tumor, sparing normal tissue.

Types of treatment used for pancreatic cancer depend on the type of cancer, its malignancy, the stage at which it is diagnosed, whether the cancer has spread outside the pancreas, the patient’s age, and overall health.

Siteman cancer physicians are actively involved in clinical trials that investigate new chemotherapy regimens, and other approaches to cure. Having your cancer treated at Siteman gives you access to new therapies that are as good as – or potentially better than – current standard therapies available elsewhere.