Posts Tagged ‘whipple procedure’

An Intro to Pancreatic Cancer Part II: Prevention, Diagnosis & Treatment

Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month


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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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Steve Jobs, Pancreatic Cancer & the Whipple Procedure

Dr. David Kooby, Emory10/6/2011 Update – A true visionary and leader in his field, we honor Steve Jobs (1955-2011) for his contributions and celebrate the tremendous impact he has had on the world. A reminder that we have a long way to go in the field of pancreatic cancer treatment. He will be deeply missed.

Most of you have probably heard the news that Steve Jobs has stepped down as Apple’s CEO. As he puts it, “I’ve always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.” Jobs’ resignation comes not as a surprise to most. He was diagnosed with a rare type of pancreatic cancer in 2003 after doctors found his islet cell neuroendocrine tumor, a pancreatic cancer type that affects only about 2,000 of the 43,000 (~5%) people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year.

After receiving his pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer diagnosis, Jobs underwent surgery known as a pancreaticoduodenectomy (Whipple procedure) in 2004 to remove his cancer. The Whipple procedure involves removing a portion (the head) of the pancreas along with several surrounding organs, with the intent of rendering the patient cancer free. While it is a complex operation with substantial risk of complications and even death, for some patients with cancers of the pancreas like Jobs, it may provide the only hope for a cure.

The outcomes of the Whipple procedure are largely dependent on the unique circumstances of the patient, the tumor, and the expertise of the surgical team performing the procedure. What is known, however, is that survival rates from the Whipple procedure are higher at hospitals that specialize in this type of surgery. A recent study of the Whipple procedure reported in The New England Journal of Medicine found that operative mortality rates to be four times higher at low-volume hospitals (16%) than at high-volume hospitals (3.8%). Emory Healthcare is home to one of few of the Southeast’s high volume Whipple procedure programs, having performed 119 Whipple procedures in 2010 alone.

We know the risks and we know what it takes to reduce them. Emory has created a clinical pathway for Whipple procedure patients, making sure every step is taken to support quality outcomes and increase the hope for survival from cancer of the pancreas. A minimally invasive approach may be an option for selected patients who are in need of this operation.

Related Resources:

Pancreatic cancer Whipple procedure Sanjay GuptaYou can hear more about Steve Jobs, his pancreatic cancer diagnosis and treatment options in this CNN video interview with Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Dr. David Kooby of Emory.



Learn more about how Emory is improving outcomes for patients needing the Whipple procedure and more about the program, or check out the video below:

Learn more about pancreatic cancer and how it’s treated at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University.