Pancreatic Cancer Program
Improving care for pancreatic cancer
Prisma Health brings together multiple specialists to develop an individual treatment plan for patients with pancreatic cancer based on their unique needs.
Prisma Health’s Pancreatic Cancer Program in the Upstate has been designated by the National Pancreas Foundation (NPF) as South Carolina’s first clinical center of excellence for pancreatic cancer. NPF offers this distinction to institutions that treat the “whole patient,” offering the best outcomes and improved quality of life for patients with pancreatic cancer.
For more information about the Pancreatic Cancer Program or to refer, please call one of our care coordinators:
Sonja McGatha: 864-455-1491
Whitney Graves: 864-455-2888
What is pancreatic cancer?
The pancreas lies behind the stomach and in front of the spine. There are two kinds of cells in the pancreas:
- Exocrine pancreas cells make enzymes that are released into the small intestine to help the body digest food.
- Neuroendocrine pancreas cells (such as islet cells) make several hormones, including insulin and glucagon, which help control sugar levels in the blood.
Most pancreatic cancers form in exocrine cells. These tumors do not secrete hormones and do not cause signs or symptoms. This makes it hard to diagnose this type of pancreatic cancer early.
Who gets pancreatic cancer?
The American Cancer Society estimates that in the United States 53,670 people will develop pancreatic cancer annually, and of those people 43,090 will succumb to the disease. In South Carolina alone, that translates to roughly 1,000 new cases this year.
Most cases of pancreatic cancer occur after the age of 60, and rarely does it occur before the age of 40. The largest risk factors for pancreatic cancer are smoking and a history of chronic pancreatitis, which increase the risk by three times and six times, respectively.
In South Carolina, smoking rates are some of the highest in the nation, as is the use of alcohol, which can lead to chronic pancreatitis. Because of this, pancreatic cancer is a condition that everyone should be aware of and watch for warning signs and symptoms.
Pancreatic cancer symptoms include:
- Dark urine
- Light-colored stools
- Itchy skin
- Abdominal or back pain
- Weight loss and poor appetite
- Digestive problems
- Gallbladder enlargement
- Blood clots
- Fatty tissue abnormalities
Screening for pancreatic cancer is not recommended at this time. But given that 5–10% of pancreatic cancers have an inherited genetic component, patients with a family history (parent, sibling or children) need to be screened. Please discuss with your doctor.
Therapeutic Interventional Endoscopy Program
Led by interventional gastroenterologist Veeral M. Oza, MD, this program includes medical, surgical, oncologic and radiologic approaches. Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) is a powerful tool that can aid in early detection when used in conjunction with CT/MRI to closely evaluate and assess pancreatic cysts and other diseases of the pancreas.
For more information about this program, call 864-455-7070.
How is pancreatic cancer treated?
After the cancer is found and staged, your cancer care team will discuss treatment options with you. It is important that you take time to think about your choices. You will want to weigh the benefits of each treatment option against the possible risks and side effects. In choosing a treatment plan, two of the main factors to consider are whether or not the cancer can be removed (resected) with surgery and your overall health.
The main types of treatment for pancreatic cancer are:
- Ablative techniques
- Radiation therapy
- Chemotherapy and other drugs
For pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (NETs), treatment options might include surgery, ablation or embolization treatments, radiation therapy, or different types of medicines.