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Pancreatic Cancer

The pancreas is an organ nestled between your stomach and your spine. It makes fluids and hormones that help your body digest food and use it as energy. There are two main types of pancreatic cancer:

  • Exocrine pancreatic cancer starts in the ducts of the pancreas. This type is the most common.
  • Endocrine pancreatic cancer, or islet cell cancer, starts in hormone-producing cells in the pancreas. This type is much rarer.

Pancreatic cancer is difficult to detect early because it does not cause symptoms in early stages and because you cannot feel lumps from outside the body.

Should I be screened for pancreatic cancer?

Most people in the U.S. have a low risk of developing pancreatic cancer, so screening is not recommended for the general population.

But if you have any of the following risk factors, you should talk with your doctor about whether you need to be screened for pancreatic cancer:

  • A family history of pancreatic cancer
  • Hereditary or chronic  pancreatitis
  • Newly diagnosed diabetes
  • Regular tobacco use
  • BRCA2 gene mutation
  • Certain hereditary conditions, including cystic fibrosis, Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome and ataxia-telangiectasia

Rush offers a comprehensive screening program for pancreatic cancer. The pancreas cancer screening team includes gastroenterologists, oncologists, genetic counselors (who can provide genetic testing) and several other specialists who are skilled at detecting changes in the pancreas. They offer wide range of tests to screen for pancreatic cancer.

Care for pancreatic cancer at Rush

Doctors at Rush aim to help patients live longer, feel better and — whenever possible — beat the cancer.

The kind of treatment you need will depend on the type and stage of your cancer, as well as your overall health and any other conditions you may have. Rush welcomes patients seeking second opinions about diagnoses and treatment plans.

Your care at Rush may involve one or more of the following:

  • Surgery to remove the pancreas. When possible, surgeons at Rush use laparoscopic techniques, which involve smaller incisions that can lead to less pain and shorter recovery time.
  • Chemotherapy, or cancer-fighting drugs.
  • Radiation therapy, which at Rush usually involves advanced technologies that target the cancer with high doses of radiation while protecting surrounding tissue.
  • Targeted therapies, which activate your body’s immune system to fight the cancer.
  • Complementary therapies, such as acupuncture, massage and other options to help you cope with pain, loss of energy and other challenges related to pancreatic cancer.

Why choose Rush for pancreatic cancer care

  • Center of excellence. Rush is a designated National Pancreas Foundation Center of Excellence. This designation recognizes Rush's multidisciplinary treatment of pancreatic cancer, treating the whole patient with a focus on the best possible outcomes and an improved quality of life. Rush is the first health system in Illinois to earn this designation.
  • Multidisciplinary care. Many patients receive care at the Rush University Cancer Center’s Coleman Foundation Comprehensive Clinic for Gastrointestinal Cancers. At the clinic, specialists in several areas combine their expertise to consider all the options and create a treatment plan tailored to the patient’s needs.
  • Clinical trials for pancreatic cancer. The Rush University Cancer Center is a hub of cancer research. Doctors and researchers at Rush are enrolling patients in trials of drugs and other treatments that might not be widely available.

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