8 Questions to Ask When Diagnosed With Pancreatic Cancer
Being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer can be difficult and understanding all treatment options is overwhelming. Patients recently diagnosed or relapsed with pancreatic cancer may be wondering what the right next step would be.
It doesn’t have to be done alone.
We’ve created an actionable guide that lays out the considerations when dealing with a pancreatic cancer diagnosis to ensure no step is missed and to help manage the process.
Question 1: What is Pancreatic Cancer?
What is Pancreatic Cancer?
- The pancreas is a small gland located in the abdomen that helps control blood sugar and aids in digestion.
- Pancreatic cancer begins when cells within the pancreas begin to grow out of control.
- Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive disease that over 57,000 people will be diagnosed with in 2020 alone.
- 10% of pancreatic cancer cases are diagnosed in early stages while more than half have already metastasized.
Question 2: What are the Stages and Types of Pancreatic Cancer?
What are the Stages and Types of Pancreatic Cancer?
Types of pancreatic cancer
- 93% of pancreatic cancers are exocrine tumors, the most common being adenocarcinoma.
- Around 7% of pancreatic tumors are neuroendocrine tumors, known as islet cell tumors, which often grow slower than exocrine tumors.
Stages of pancreatic cancer
- Range from I-IV and progress from the least to most advanced.
- Higher stages have larger tumors and/or cancer that has spread outside of the pancreas, which leads to a less favorable prognosis.
Question 3: What Are the Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer?
What Are the Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer?
Pancreatic cancer often has no symptoms, especially in early stages. Early detection can improve the patient's overall prognosis.
If they appear, symptoms of pancreatic cancer include:
- Unintentional weight loss
- Abdominal and/or back pain
- Late development of type 2 diabetes
- Jaundice (yellowing of eyes and skin)
Question 4: What Are the Standard Treatments for Pancreatic Cancer?
What Are the Standard Treatments for Pancreatic Cancer?
Treatment for pancreatic cancer varies based on the stage of the disease and other factors. They are:
- Whipple procedure: Surgical removal for pancreatic cancers located at the head of the pancreas.
- Distal pancreatectomy: Surgical removal of the tail and/or portion of the body of the pancreas, which is much less common.
- Chemotherapy: Such as Gemcitabine and Abraxane or FOLFIRINOX.
- Radiation Therapy: Such as external beam radiation therapy (EBRT).
- Targeted Therapy: Such as EGFR or PARP inhibitors.
- Immunotherapy: Such as checkpoint or PD-1 inhibitors.
Question 5: What Are the Research Treatments for Pancreatic Cancer?
What Are the Research Treatments for Pancreatic Cancer?
There are currently over 500 active pancreatic cancer clinical trials taking place in the United States! By participating in a clinical trial, patients receive innovative therapies years before the average population.
The new treatments investigated in today's pancreatic cancer clinical trials are:
- Targeted therapies for new biomarkers
- Immunotherapy using new monoclonal antibodies
- Combinations of chemotherapies with other drugs
- New methods of surgery
Question 6: Who Should Be on My Care Team?
Who Should Be on My Care Team?
Pancreatic Cancer is a serious disease, and it takes a serious team to fight.
Members of your care team can include:
- Gastroenterologists: Doctors that specialize in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, where the pancreas is located.
- Medical Oncologists: Doctors that specialize in and treat cancer.
- Registered Dietician: Help you maintain your nutrition during your cancer journey.
- Family and Friends: Can help with everyday tasks such as cooking, babysitting during treatment, or just to talk.
Question 7: What Resources Are Available?
What Resources Are Available?
A pancreatic cancer diagnosis can disrupt your life in many ways. Luckily, resources are available to help!
- Social workers: Available to assist you in discharge planning, financial aid applications, advanced directive creation, and more.
- Counselors: Help you come to terms with your diagnosis and create actionable plans to maintain your mental health.
- Support groups: Available to help you connect with peers going through a similar journey so you can both support others and be supported.
Question 8: How Do I Take A Step Forward?
How Do I Take A Step Forward?
Towards a positive outcome.
Be your own advocate and look for proactive options, such as clinical trials. Decide on a treatment plan and stay positive during your cancer journey.
Know that there are resources and people around you who are willing to help you reach a positive outcome.
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