Pancreatic Cancer Facts and Fiction

Drawing of the pancreas

Pancreas drawing by Sidney Kimmel Medical College student, Mike Natter

Today is World Pancreatic Cancer Day and raising awareness is extremely important for a number of reasons. Pancreatic cancer is slated to become the second most deadly cancer (after lung) by about 2025. This is due to the aging population, as well as advances in breast and other cancers. Pancreatic cancer lags behind in research due to a lack of funding.

We spoke with Department of Surgery doctors Charles Yeo, Jonathan Brody, Harish Lavu and Jordan Winter about some common pancreatic cancer facts and misconceptions, as well as treatment options and an exciting new study funded by Dr. Brody’s 2015 Pancreatic Cancer Action Network-AACR Research Acceleration Network Grant— all of which one can expect to learn about at the 10th Annual Pancreatic Cancer and Related Diseases Symposium this Saturday.

True or False:
Pancreatic Cancer is a death sentence.
False. Though it can be aggressive and difficult to detect due to the location of the pancreas in the body and its lack of symptoms, pancreatic cancer can be treated successfully. The most common surgeries for pancreatic cancer are the Whipple and the mini-Whipple. Dr. Yeo, the Samuel D. Gross Professor and Chair of the Department of Surgery and his team have performed over 1100 in the past 10 years.

Dr. Lavu, Associate Professor of Surgery and Co-Director of the Jefferson Pancreas Tumor Registry will discuss the Whipple accelerated recovery pathway at Saturday’s symposium, while Dr. Winter, an associate professor of surgery, will discuss the metabolic vulnerabilities of pancreatic cancer.

Dr. Brody, the Director of the Division of Surgical Research, and his lab are investigating personalized, molecular therapy for pancreatic cancer treatment. They will begin enrolling patients into a multi-institutional clinical trial in 2016.

You cannot live without a pancreas.
False. Life without a pancreas involves medication. The pancreas is responsible for producing the body’s insulin. Therefore, those without a pancreas will become diabetic and require insulin. The pancreas also helps the body digest food, so medication is needed to aid digestion.

The pancreas can regenerate.
False. The pancreas cannot regenerate. As noted above, one can live without the pancreas with proper medication.

Pancreatic cancer is more common in men than women.
False. Pancreatic cancer affects women and men equally.

Smoking is the biggest risk factor for pancreatic cancer.
True. Smoking is the biggest environmental risk factor. Other important factors include age and family history.

To learn more about pancreatic cancer, attend Saturday’s symposium!

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