Drs. El-Rayes & Kooby answered several of your questions about pancreatic cancer risk factors, symptoms and therapy. There are a variety of treatment options for pancreatic cancer; for some patients, a combination of treatment methods may be used. Check out the conversation by viewing the chat transcript! Here are just a few highlights from the chat:
Question: Who is at the most risk for pancreatic cancer?
Dr. Kooby: Pancreatic cancer can affect anyone. People with a family history of pancreatic cancer in first degree relatives have an increased risk. Smokers are at risk, as tobacco appears to be a causative factor. Other groups who have an elevated risk of getting pancreatic cancer are those with new onset or long-standing diabetes mellitus and those with one of several uncommon genetic syndromes: BRAC2, HPSS, FMS, Peutz Jegher. Other associations include age over 60, chronic pancreatitis, and obesity. Many of the symptoms for pancreatic cancer are vague, which makes this a difficult disease to diagnose.
Question: When surgery is not an option, are there any treatments beyond chemo and radiation?
Dr. El-Rayes: A number of novel therapies are currently on clinical trials and those include drugs that stimulate the immune system or drugs that target specific molecular abnormalities in cancer (targeted therapies). In addition, in certain situations there are options to use therapies that ablate (physically destroy the tumor). These include nano knife.
Question: Are qualifying patients given the option to participate in these trials Dr. El-Rayes?
Dr. El-Rayes: When we evaluate patients in the clinic, we always discuss with them the different options of therapy, including, standard therapy vs. clinical trials. For patients to participate in clinical trials, they have to meet predefined criteria. If patients are interested in clinical trials, we will screen them to determine whether or not the meet these criteria.
Question: My sister and brother have both been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer within months of each other. There are three remaining siblings. Can you address how we can be tested?
Dr. El-Rayes: The first step would be to see a genetic counselor to look for a possible genetic link. There, they can test for specific genes that might indicate a higher risk in the family.
Dr. Kooby: If the genetic testing doesn’t yield any abnormality, the second step would be to consult with a pancreatic cancer specialist. These specialists are either gastroenterologists or medical oncologists. Currently, there are no set guidelines on how frequently family members of current patients should be tested. Your specialist can outline a plan that works best for you and your family. Researchers at institutions like Winship are actively working on better methods for screening for pancreatic cancer.
If you missed this chat, be sure to check out the full list of questions and answers on the web transcript. For more information go to the Pancreatic Cancer at Winship Cancer Institute website or 404-778-7777 to learn more from a registered nurse.
If you have additional questions for Drs. El-Rayes & Kooby, feel free to leave a comment in our comments area below.
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