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Meet the Pancreatic Cancer Team

Meet the Pancreatic Cancer Team

Washington University hepatobiliary-pancreatic & gastrointestinal (HPB-GI) surgeons, along with the multidisciplinary team of specialists at Siteman Cancer Center, are nationally recognized for their screening, diagnosis and treatment of pancreatic cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, pancreatic cancer is the eighth most common cancer in women and the tenth most common cancer in men. The disease is difficult to detect in its early stages and can be harder to treat as it progresses. Because of this, pancreatic cancer is recognized as the fourth leading cause of cancer-related death in both men and women.

The pancreas has two main functions: to make juices to help digest food and to make hormones, such as insulin and glucagon, to help control blood sugar levels. The digestive juices are made by exocrine pancreas cells and the hormones are made by endocrine pancreas cells.

Pancreatic adenocarcinomas, the most common type of pancreatic cancer, begin in exocrine cells and are considered difficult to detect because symptoms may not arise until the disease has spread. Neuroendocrine (islet cell) tumors, frequently referred to as NETs, are functional, meaning they make and release hormones, leading the body to produce extra hormones that can cause a variety of symptoms.

The pancreatic cancer team at Siteman Cancer Center, made up of HPB-GI surgeons, medical and radiation oncologists, gastroenterologists and radiologists, are pioneers in researching, developing and utilizing leading-edge treatments for pancreatic cancer.

Before an appointment, the pancreatic cancer team runs a full spectrum of diagnostic screenings if the disease is suspected. Imaging tests, blood chemistry and genetics testing are often utilized in conjunction with surgical biopsy methods to gain a comprehensive understanding of a patient’s condition.

“Our surgeons are involved early in the process as we perform minimally invasive laparoscopy to diagnose and take tissue for biopsy,” says Ryan Fields, MD, Kim & Tim Eberlein Distinguished Professor and Chief of Surgical Oncology. “Biopsy is also critical in helping our team understand whether or not the cancerous cells can be removed with surgery, if it has spread to nearby organs or lymph nodes or if it has spread to different areas of the body.”

The pancreatic cancer team works together to support the patient and personalizes a treatment plan tailored to that patient’s needs. The standard treatments for pancreatic cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, chemoradiation, and targeted therapy. Clinical trials are also underway that investigate promising new approaches and disease management opportunities.

“Pancreatic cancer is a complex disease that occurs in one of the body’s most delicate regions. If the disease has spread to areas around the pancreas, its presence near certain blood vessels makes operating and removing cancerous cells very difficult,” says Fields. “In those cases, preoperative chemotherapy and radiation is often utilized in hopes to shrink the tumor to safely remove it, if possible. After surgery, our oncologists and radiologists may encourage additional treatments to help shrink or kill remaining cancer cells.”

When it is time to operate, the HPB-GI surgeons on the pancreatic cancer team are at the forefront of utilizing revolutionary surgical techniques to remove pancreatic cancer. These surgeries include minimally invasive robotic distal pancreatectomies to remove cancer from the tip of the pancreas and a Whipple procedure (pancreatoduodenectomy). During a Whipple procedure, the head of the pancreas, part of the stomach, a piece of the jejunum, lymph nodes near the pancreas, the duodenum, gallbladder and part of the common bile duct are carefully removed while working among some of the body’s most critical veins and arteries.

The HPB-GI surgeons at Siteman perform approximately 100 to 125 Whipple procedures each year, leading Siteman to become one of the highest volume centers for this surgery nationwide. The team also has an exemplary safety record as they perform delicate and technically demanding procedures through open, minimally invasive laparoscopic and robotic techniques. The robotic distal pancreatectomy, Whipple procedure and other minimally invasive surgical techniques are known to reduce the length of hospital stay after surgery and typically result in a quicker recovery.

The pancreatic cancer team is also actively involved in investigating new treatment regimens through active research investigations and several different clinical trials at Siteman Cancer Center. Siteman is the only cancer center in Missouri to hold the prestigious Comprehensive Cancer Center designation from the National Cancer Institute and membership in the Comprehensive Cancer Network. The NCI also awarded Siteman an “exceptional” rating—the highest rating possible—based on a rigorous review of its research programs.

Washington University Pancreatic Cancer Specialists:

Washington University hepatobiliary-pancreatic and gastrointestinal surgeons provide screening, patient care and treatments for pancreatic cancer across the wide network of hospitals throughout the St. Louis region and beyond.

To make an appointment with a Washington University hepatobiliary-pancreatic and gastrointestinal surgeon, please call 800-647-2098 or request an appointment online.