Managing Treatments

Spotlight on the UVA Cancer Center Pancreatic Cancer Program

The Pancreatic Cancer Program assembles the best resources across UVA Cancer Center to provide the best care for patients at all stages of disease. Here's what you can expect when you visit the center and one of its three specialized clinics.

Pancreatic cancer is a complex disease, and a diagnosis can feel scary and confusing. Though rare, pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death, according to the American Cancer Society.

UVA Cancer Center is dedicated to helping you understand and navigate your risk factors and make informed decisions about your screening and treatment options. The center’s Pancreatic Cancer Program offers a comprehensive approach to prevention and treatment of pancreatic cancer.

What Is the UVA Cancer Center Pancreatic Cancer Program?

The Pancreatic Cancer Program assembles the best resources across UVA, including a multidisciplinary team of oncologists, radiologists, pathologists, gastroenterologists and genetic counselors, to provide the best care for patients at all stages of disease. It includes three primary resources:

  1. High-Risk Clinic: The High-Risk Clinic is part of UVA’s commitment to improving pancreatic cancer screening. It’s one of the first programs in the country that screens patients with key risk factors for pancreatic cancer in an effort to catch cancer early. By screening and monitoring high-risk patients, the Pancreatic Cancer Program can help refine screening guidelines, establish evidence-based screening protocols and develop a biomarker for pancreatic cancer, which can help improve treatment and survival outcomes.
  2. Pancreatic Cyst Clinic: Though most pancreatic cysts are benign, they can increase your risk of developing pancreatic cancer. The Pancreatic Cyst Clinic is one of the first programs in the country that specializes in detecting and treating pancreatic cysts. The team will review any scans or images you may have and determine if you need additional diagnostic tests. If you have a benign cyst, the team at the clinic will monitor the cyst through regular follow-up appointments. If the cyst is painful or potentially cancerous, the team may recommend surgery. The team will conduct a comprehensive exam and assess your risk factors. They’ll connect you with other resources such as nutrition counseling and smoking cessation.
  3. Pancreatic Surgery Clinic: For patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer who need surgery, the Pancreatic Surgery Clinic offers cutting-edge surgical and medical procedures. It’s one of the best in the country in terms of patient outcomes. The surgeons use the Whipple procedure, one of the most common operations for pancreatic cancer. Surgeons at UVA perform more than 50 Whipple procedures per year. Other surgical options include distal pancreatectomy (removal of the body and tail of the pancreas), splenectomy (removal of the spleen), total pancreatectomy (removal of the pancreas) and laparoscopic second open surgery. The clinic also offers surgical treatment for painful or potentially cancerous cysts.

Should You Be Screened?

Certain factors may affect your risk of developing pancreatic cancer, such as using tobacco and being overweight or obese, according to the American Cancer Society. Older adults and men are more likely to develop the disease compared to younger adults and women, respectively. African Americans are also at a slightly higher risk. In a small number of cases, pancreatic cancer may also be passed down in families through inherited gene mutations.

However, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, there are no reliable, cost-effective screenings for pancreatic cancer. This can make it hard to detect it in its early stages. But you should still talk to your doctor about regular screenings based on your family history and risk factors.

What to Expect

If you’re at high risk and choose to be screened for pancreatic cancer, the team at the High-Risk Clinic will walk you through the screening process.

During the screening process, your healthcare team will conduct a physical exam. They will also ask about your family and personal medical history, as well as any lifestyle risk factors such as diet, alcohol use and smoking.

Depending on your family history, your team may suggest genetic testing and counseling to further illuminate your risk for pancreatic cancer. Your doctor may also recommend more advanced tests such as endoscopic ultrasound or a high-resolution pancreatic magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Whether you’ve been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer or are worried about your risk for developing the disease, the Pancreatic Cancer Program is dedicated to providing the most advanced screening, detection and treatment to patients at all stages of the disease.

You can determine what your cancer risk factors are so that you can take charge of your health. UVA Cancer Center offers wellness screenings for people from all backgrounds.

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Christine Yu