Cancer of the pancreas is the fourth most common cause of cancer death in the United States. Pancreatic cancer occurs when a cell in the pancreas—which produces fluids that help digest food and hormones (such as insulin) to control blood sugar levels—is damaged. This malignant (cancer) cell starts to grow out of control. Digestive fluids are made by exocrine pancreas cells and hormones are produced by endocrine pancreas cells. Roughly 95 percent of pancreatic cancers begin in exocrine pancreas cells. Pancreatic tumors are sometimes discovered during imaging studies to investigate symptoms or during an evaluation for another condition. They may also be found during screening for families with a history of pancreatic cancer. Learn more about cancer of the pancreas.
Surgeons at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) specialize in pancreatic cancer. As the surgical team for the Pancreas and Biliary Tumor Center at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center, our board certified surgeons work with a group of pancreatic cancer specialists to provide compassionate and highly coordinated care for patients with pancreatic lesions. Our surgeons use the latest minimally invasive surgery techniques and perform more than 100 pancreatic cancer operations per year, including the Whipple procedure.
Factors that contribute to an increased risk for cancer of the pancreas include:
Pancreatic cancer is difficult to detect early as it does not cause symptoms right away. Symptoms associated with pancreatic cancer include:
If you are having symptoms of pancreatic cancer, your surgeon will ask about your health history, your family’s history of cancer and risk factors. Diagnostic tests may include:
With the results of diagnostic tests, your doctor will assign your cancer a stage, depending upon the size and spread of the cancer.
Our surgeons offer extensive expertise in the most advanced minimally invasive procedures for cancer of the pancreas, using laparoscopic techniques when appropriate. Types of surgery include:
The Whipple procedure and distal pancreatectomy are highly complex operations that require an experienced surgeon and a concentrated team approach to keep risks to a minimum. At the Pancreas and Biliary Tumor Center, our surgical specialists perform a high volume of these complicated surgeries. This experience and our advanced training and skill translate to successful surgical outcomes for our patients. Our patient mortality rates are well below the national average.
You will receive a thorough diagnostic examination to evaluate if you have pancreatic cancer and determine what course of treatment is needed. Careful monitoring and the involvement of an experienced surgeon are important to the successful outcome for patients with cancer of the pancreas.
If you are having surgery or a procedure, you will likely be scheduled for a visit to the Weiner Center for Preoperative Evaluation for pre-operative information and tests.
The day of surgery, you will be cared for in the operating room by surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses who specialize in surgery for patients with pancreatic cancer. After surgery, you will recover in the post-surgical care unit where you will receive comprehensive care by an experienced surgical and nursing staff.
The Pancreas and Biliary Tumor Center at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center provides advanced multidisciplinary care for patients with gastrointestinal diseases, such as pancreatic cancer. Our treatment team includes surgeons, medical and radiation oncologists, radiologists, pathologists, endoscopists, anesthesiologists and gastroenterologists. In addition, patients have full access to BWH’s world-renowned academic medical community with its diverse specialists and state-of-the-art facilities.
Contact one of our cancer surgeons in the list at the top of the page to make an appointment.
Learn more about pancreatic cancer in our health library.
Visit the Kessler Health Education Library in the Bretholtz Center for Patients and Families to access computers and knowledgeable staff.
Visit the Weiner Center for Preoperative Evaluation.
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