Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer affects the pancreas, a gland between your stomach and your spine. Your pancreas produces hormones and juices that help break down food. 

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States. It’s the second most common gastrointestinal cancer in the U.S., and it is becoming more common. 

By far the most common type of pancreatic cancer is called pancreatic adenocarcinoma. Most cases are diagnosed in late stages, when it is difficult to treat, which is why mortality rates remain high. Penn State Cancer Institute aims to improve outcomes through early detection, proper staging and multidisciplinary management.

Treatment

Treating and managing pancreatic cancer requires experts and specialists with a wide range of knowledge and experience. The treatment plan depends on the stage and extent of the disease.

Pancreatic tumors that have not deeply invaded surrounding blood vessels are usually removed through surgery. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be needed before surgery.

If pancreatic cancer has invaded the surrounding arteries, surgery to remove the tumors may not be an option. In this case, chemotherapy and possibly radiation therapy are the most common treatments.

For metastatic pancreatic cancer - tumors that have spread to distant organs and sites in the body - palliative chemotherapy is the standard of care. The goal is to reduce symptoms and possibly extend life. Clinical trials may be an option, providing access to new and promising treatment approaches. To find out if you or your loved one is a candidate for a clinical trial, talk to your Health Care team.

For advanced pancreatic cancer, starting palliative care right away can help control symptoms and maintain quality of life. Palliative care can usually start shortly after diagnosis.  

Related Care and Support

To improve your comfort and well-being while you’re in treatment, you’ll have access to care from:

  • Palliative care providers
  • Social workers
  • Nutritionists
  • Physical therapists
  • Art and music therapists
  • Psychologists

Family members may be at increased risk for pancreatic cancer. Genetic counseling and education can help reduce the risk and help identify symptoms at an earlier stage. Our genetics counselor Maria Baker, PhD, can provide this vital service.

Care Team

You may see one or more of the following specialists for your cancer treatment.

Niraj J. Gusani, MD, FACS Niraj J. Gusani, MD, FACS Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Karen Krok, MD Karen Krok, MD Gastroenterologist View Researcher Profile
Heath Mackley, MD, FACRO Heath Mackley, MD, FACRO Radiation Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Thomas Riley III, MD, MS, FAASLD Thomas Riley III, MD, MS, FAASLD Gastroenterologist View Researcher Profile
Marc Rovito, MD Marc Rovito, MD Hematology/Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Nabeel Sarwani, MD Nabeel Sarwani, MD Radiologist View Researcher Profile
Brian Saunders, MD Brian Saunders, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Ian Schreibman, MD, FACG, FAGA Ian Schreibman, MD, FACG, FAGA Gastroenterologist View Researcher Profile
Navesh Sharma, DO, PhD, FACRO Navesh Sharma, DO, PhD, FACRO Radiation Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Matthew D. Taylor, MD Matthew D. Taylor, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Leila Tchelebi, MD Leila Tchelebi, MD Radiation Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Nelson Shu-Sang Yee, MD, PhD, RPh Nelson Shu-Sang Yee, MD, PhD, RPh Medical Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Amanda Cooper, MD Amanda Cooper, MD View Researcher Profile

Locations

Penn State Cancer Institute

Penn State Cancer Institute

400 University Dr
Hershey, PA 17033

Phone: 717-531-6585
Penn State Health Endoscopy

Penn State Health Endoscopy

200 Campus Dr
Suite 2100
Hershey, PA 17033

Phone: 717-531-8364

Clinical Trials

CHARM II: Chemotherapy for Ablation and Resolution of Mucinous Pancreatic Cysts: A Prospective, Randomized, Double-blind, Multi-center Clinical Trial

Groups, Classes and Support

Support groups offer an opportunity to connect with other patients, caregivers and families. Learn more about support groups offered at Penn State Cancer Institute.

Prevention and Screening

Prevention

You can reduce your risk for pancreatic cancer by avoiding certain risk factors, such as:

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Eating a lot of red meat or processed meat and dairy products
  • Heavy drinking of alcohol
  • Exposure to chemicals such as asbestos, benzene and pesticides  

Screening

Currently, there is no effective screening method for pancreatic cancer. Research into possible methods is ongoing.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Pancreatic cancer is cancer that starts in the pancreas.

Symptoms

Signs of pancreatic cancer depend on where the tumor is located in the body. Some common signs include:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes)
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored stool
  • Abdominal or back pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Frequent indigestion or nausea
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Floating stool
  • Depression

Diagnosis

If your doctor suspects pancreatic cancer, the first step is computer tomography (CT) scans. If CT scans do not show cancer or if you are allergic to CT contrast dye, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be used. 

To determine the stage of cancer, you will need endoscopic ultrasonography (EUS), using a flexible, lighted scope and sound waves, or endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), using a flexible, lighted scope and X-rays. 

Positron emission tomography (PET), CT scans or laparoscopy may help if the cancer has spread and is not detected on CT or MRI scans. Diagnosis is often made by EUS-guided fine needle aspiration or CT-guided core needle biopsy.

Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer affects the pancreas, a gland between your stomach and your spine. Your pancreas produces hormones and juices that help break down food. 

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States. It’s the second most common gastrointestinal cancer in the U.S., and it is becoming more common. 

By far the most common type of pancreatic cancer is called pancreatic adenocarcinoma. Most cases are diagnosed in late stages, when it is difficult to treat, which is why mortality rates remain high. Penn State Cancer Institute aims to improve outcomes through early detection, proper staging and multidisciplinary management.

Treating and managing pancreatic cancer requires experts and specialists with a wide range of knowledge and experience. The treatment plan depends on the stage and extent of the disease.

Pancreatic tumors that have not deeply invaded surrounding blood vessels are usually removed through surgery. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be needed before surgery.

If pancreatic cancer has invaded the surrounding arteries, surgery to remove the tumors may not be an option. In this case, chemotherapy and possibly radiation therapy are the most common treatments.

For metastatic pancreatic cancer - tumors that have spread to distant organs and sites in the body - palliative chemotherapy is the standard of care. The goal is to reduce symptoms and possibly extend life. Clinical trials may be an option, providing access to new and promising treatment approaches. To find out if you or your loved one is a candidate for a clinical trial, talk to your Health Care team.

For advanced pancreatic cancer, starting palliative care right away can help control symptoms and maintain quality of life. Palliative care can usually start shortly after diagnosis.  

Related Care and Support

To improve your comfort and well-being while you’re in treatment, you’ll have access to care from:

  • Palliative care providers
  • Social workers
  • Nutritionists
  • Physical therapists
  • Art and music therapists
  • Psychologists

Family members may be at increased risk for pancreatic cancer. Genetic counseling and education can help reduce the risk and help identify symptoms at an earlier stage. Our genetics counselor Maria Baker, PhD, can provide this vital service.

You may see one or more of the following specialists for your cancer treatment.

Niraj J. Gusani, MD, FACS Niraj J. Gusani, MD, FACS Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Karen Krok, MD Karen Krok, MD Gastroenterologist View Researcher Profile
Heath Mackley, MD, FACRO Heath Mackley, MD, FACRO Radiation Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Thomas Riley III, MD, MS, FAASLD Thomas Riley III, MD, MS, FAASLD Gastroenterologist View Researcher Profile
Marc Rovito, MD Marc Rovito, MD Hematology/Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Nabeel Sarwani, MD Nabeel Sarwani, MD Radiologist View Researcher Profile
Brian Saunders, MD Brian Saunders, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Ian Schreibman, MD, FACG, FAGA Ian Schreibman, MD, FACG, FAGA Gastroenterologist View Researcher Profile
Navesh Sharma, DO, PhD, FACRO Navesh Sharma, DO, PhD, FACRO Radiation Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Matthew D. Taylor, MD Matthew D. Taylor, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Leila Tchelebi, MD Leila Tchelebi, MD Radiation Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Nelson Shu-Sang Yee, MD, PhD, RPh Nelson Shu-Sang Yee, MD, PhD, RPh Medical Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Amanda Cooper, MD Amanda Cooper, MD View Researcher Profile
Penn State Cancer Institute

Penn State Cancer Institute

400 University Dr
Hershey, PA 17033

Phone: 717-531-6585
Penn State Health Endoscopy

Penn State Health Endoscopy

200 Campus Dr
Suite 2100
Hershey, PA 17033

Phone: 717-531-8364
CHARM II: Chemotherapy for Ablation and Resolution of Mucinous Pancreatic Cysts: A Prospective, Randomized, Double-blind, Multi-center Clinical Trial
Support groups offer an opportunity to connect with other patients, caregivers and families. Learn more about support groups offered at Penn State Cancer Institute.

Prevention

You can reduce your risk for pancreatic cancer by avoiding certain risk factors, such as:

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Eating a lot of red meat or processed meat and dairy products
  • Heavy drinking of alcohol
  • Exposure to chemicals such as asbestos, benzene and pesticides  

Screening

Currently, there is no effective screening method for pancreatic cancer. Research into possible methods is ongoing.

Pancreatic cancer is cancer that starts in the pancreas.

Symptoms

Signs of pancreatic cancer depend on where the tumor is located in the body. Some common signs include:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes)
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored stool
  • Abdominal or back pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Frequent indigestion or nausea
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Floating stool
  • Depression

Diagnosis

If your doctor suspects pancreatic cancer, the first step is computer tomography (CT) scans. If CT scans do not show cancer or if you are allergic to CT contrast dye, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be used. 

To determine the stage of cancer, you will need endoscopic ultrasonography (EUS), using a flexible, lighted scope and sound waves, or endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), using a flexible, lighted scope and X-rays. 

Positron emission tomography (PET), CT scans or laparoscopy may help if the cancer has spread and is not detected on CT or MRI scans. Diagnosis is often made by EUS-guided fine needle aspiration or CT-guided core needle biopsy.