The National Pancreas Foundation has recognized Rush University Medical Center as a National Center of Excellence for Pancreatic Cancer, a designation given to hospitals that have demonstrated the multidisciplinary approach, social support and advanced research resources needed to successfully treat this devastating disease.
The Medical Center is one of only 43 hospitals in the country — and the only in Illinois — to earn this distinction. The National Pancreas Foundation Centers program was created five years ago, when the NPF saw a growing need from patients who frequently reached out for pancreas disease specialist recommendations. NPF Centers go through an extensive auditing process and are high-quality, multi-disciplinary facilities that treat the whole patient.
Pancreatic cancer is among the deadliest cancers in the United States. Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, which accounts for more than 90% of pancreatic cancer cases, is the only type of cancer with an overall five-year survival rate in the single digits. It is expected to surpass colorectal cancer this year as the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.
“Receiving a pancreatic cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming for patients and their loved ones” said Dr. Mia Levy, the Sheba Foundation Director of the Rush University Cancer Center. “The need to make a series of treatment decisions adds to the burden. Therefore, at Rush, each patient’s pancreatic cancer team includes specialists from several clinical disciplines, as well as non-clinical professionals who provide the support and education needed to treat the whole person, not just their cancer.”
“We are proud that Rush has assembled such a talented group of oncologists, surgeons and radiologists who specialize in pancreatic cancer. But people deserve to know not just who will treat them, but how,” said Dr. Ashiq Masood, the Medical Center's director of gastrointestinal medical oncology. “Being named a National Center of Excellence for Pancreatic Cancer assures patients that we have both the people and processes to help them through every step of surviving pancreatic cancer.”
NPF Centers of Excellence go through a months-long auditing process to demonstrate they have meet a series of criteria developed by a national task force of pancreatic cancer experts. Those criteria are focused on the following three areas:
- Designated core personnel — The hospital must demonstrate how a multidisciplinary team of pancreatic cancer specialists coordinates efforts for each patient. Those specialists include a program director, medical oncologists with primary practice in gastrointestinal cancers (including expertise in pancreatic/hepatobiliary malignancies), a pathologist with expertise in gastrointestinal malignancies, radiation and interventional oncologists, gastroenterologists, and surgeons who perform a minimum of 20 pancreas resections a year for three consecutive years.
- Clinical trial access — Hospitals must be leaders in developing new drugs and treatments, with patients having access to approved clinical trials testing novel therapies for pancreatic cancer.
- “Whole patient” support — Beyond advanced clinical expertise, the hospital must be able to demonstrate a comprehensive commitment to social, educational, nutritional and emotional support programs designed to treat the “whole person.” These programs may include patient and family support groups, social worker access, pain management service and mental health support.
Dr. Sam Pappas, the Medical Center’s chief of surgical oncology, echoed the importance of a multidisciplinary approach needed to combat pancreatic cancer. “Every case of pancreatic cancer is unique, and each patient needs a therapy precisely designed for them,” he said. “While surgery is typically the best option for long term survival, Rush surgeons work closely with medical oncologists and radiation oncologists to determine very specific sequences and doses of chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapies that we believe will work best for them.”
Dr. Ajaypal Singh, the Medical Center’s director of advanced endoscopy, adds that rapidly developing minimally invasive technologies are an important component of cancer care at Rush. “An endosonographer’s ability to diagnose early cancer, and achieve biliary drainage is evolving rapidly,” Singh said.
“But more importantly, we are usually the first providers to tell the patients and their families about the diagnosis of cancer. Knowing that we have a very strong and dedicated multi-disciplinary team to take care of these patients going forward makes our job easier while discussing the life altering diagnosis with patients and their families. This NPF designation is a testament to Rush investing in the tools, technologies and people that are saving lives at Rush today and leading innovation that will be replicated nationally.”