Pancreatic Cancer: ‘Demystifying’ Its Bad Reputation

Pancreatic cancer has long been known as one of the mostlethal forms of cancer. With the disease causing few symptoms, many patientsdon’t realize they’re affected until the cancer has advanced. Pancreatic canceris the third-leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., according to theAmerican Cancer Society.

However, with advancements in technology in recent years, Horacio Asbun, M.D., Chief of Hepatobiliary and Pancreas Surgery at Miami Cancer Institute, along with Govindarajan Narayanan, M.D., Chief of Interventional Oncology, told Baptist Health’s Resource Live program that survival rates are starting to climb and giving pancreatic cancer patients hope for the future.

The Reputation of Pancreatic Cancer

According to recent statistics, the number of people who will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is “about 50,000 new patients,” says Dr. Narayanan. However, despite the numbers, the disease’s deadly reputation and its label as the “silent disease,” Dr. Asbun is reassuring patients that the “idea is not to scare people.”

“We want to show you all the different ways that there ishope for fighting this disease … they are advancing all the time thanks toefforts of these doctors and researchers around the world,” says Dr. Narayanan.

Diagnosis and the Importance of a MultidisciplinaryApproach

When it comes to a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, due to of the location of the pancreas and the lack of symptoms, Drs. Asbun and Narayanan noted that the No. 1 challenge for doctors is a diagnosis at an early stage.

“Most of the time, by the time it’s diagnosed, the diseasehas probably already spread out of the pancreas. Even if it’s confined in the pancreas,it poses a challenge to surgeons because it surrounds the blood vessels in thatarea,” says Dr. Narayanan.

In a situation like this, having a multidisciplinaryapproach to determine the best treatment option for the patient is key, both MiamiCancer Institute experts agreed.

“As a team, we offer the patients multiple opinions,” saysDr. Asbun. “In the past, the surgeon was the one that usually made the decisionif the patient goes to surgery or not, but now that’s totally obsolete.

“Together, we make a unified decision and the recommendationto the patient really gives the patient the opportunity to have a second,third, fourth, or fifth opinion right there from a single Center.”

Advancements in Technology to Treat Pancreatic Cancer

While surgery, radiation and chemotherapy may be the firstcancer treatments that come to mind, interventional oncology has become anessential component of the multidisciplinary team approach to cancer care.

Unlike other ablation methods which use extreme heat or coldto kill tumor cells, Dr. Narayanan, the pioneer behind new techniques andresearcher of innovative applications of technologies, serves as the leadinvestigator for irreversible electroporation (IRE), or NanoKnife, which useselectrical currents to destroy soft-tissue tumors.

“We’re able to place needles without the need to open thepatient (minimally invasive procedure),” says Dr. Narayanan.

“Using CT scan guidance, the unique part about thistechnology is that it can be used in close proximity to blood vessels withouthurting them,” he added.

With the first patient successfully treated in 2010, Dr. Narayanansays he’s “excited now to bring the first randomized control trial to look atthe impact of this technology in pancreatic cancer to Miami Cancer Institute.”

The Importance of Positive Mindset Throughout a Cancer Diagnosis

“I think even with all that we offer and what we do, a patient’smindset plays a huge role in how they respond to the treatment and to thecancer,” says Dr. Narayanan. “When we offer them potential solutions, which mayor may not be available in other places, you are providing them with somethingto look forward to and something that can improve their mindset and help themget better.”

Dr. Asbun added, “We need to demystify the bad reputation ofpancreatic cancer. I’m not saying that we need to be in denial … Pancreaticcancer is an aggressive cancer and yes, it’s still one of the worst cancers interms of survival. However, we’re finally making changes.

“We’re at a crossroads … We’re making an impact and hope shouldbe there all the time. Just make sure you have a good plan and you feelcomfortable with the people that are treating you.”

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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