November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Last week, we gave you an intro to Pancreatic Cancer, including statistics, information on the types of pancreatic cancer, and pancreatic cancer risk factors. As promised, this week, we’re following up with information on preventing, diagnosing and treating cancer of the pancreas.
Pancreatic Cancer Prevention
Much of the advice you’ll see for cancer prevention is similar across cancers. A few things you can do to help improve your health and fight off cancer, including pancreatic cancer, include: quitting smoking, exercising regularly, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, and maintaining a healthy weight.
Diagnosing Cancer of the Pancreas
Diagnosing cancer of the pancreas can involve a variety of tests and assessments. As is true in any attempt to diagnose a medical condition, a thorough evaluation of a patient’s medical history, risk factors, and symptoms is conducted. Imaging tests, including CT, MRI, PET, ultrasound, and others may be used along with potential biopsies and blood tests.
Treating Cancer of the Pancreas
There are three main modes of treatment in combating pancreatic cancer:
- Surgery – Parts or the entire pancreas may be removed depending on the location and stage of the pancreatic cancer. The whipple procedure can be used when the cancer is in the head of the pancreas and involves the removal of the head of the pancreas and parts of the bile ducts, small intestine, and stomach; distal pancreatectomy removes the body and tail of the pancreas and the spleen; and total pancreatectomy removes the entire pancreas, part of the small intestine, a portion of the stomach, the common bile duct, the gallbladder, the spleen, and nearby lymph nodes.
- Chemotherapy - Chemotherapy is medication delivered to the body to eliminate cancer cells or greatly reduce their effect. It targets cells that divide rapidly, a characteristic of most cancer cells. Chemotherapy is often used to support and enhance other cancer treatment modalities.
- Radiation Therapy – Radiation therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses ionizing radiation energy to kill cancer cells and shrink cancerous tumors. Radiation therapy serves to either destroy cancerous cells or damage these cells to impede the division and growth of the cancer.
Physicians at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University specialize in these treatments, while researchers at Winship are exploring new and novel treatments for pancreatic cancer, including a number of clinical trials for pancreatic cancer treatment.