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When a new cancer patient calls El Camino Hospital for an appointment, we make sure they see one of our cancer specialists within 48 hours. We offer all the most advanced treatment options for pancreatic cancer, following the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) guidelines, the highest possible standard in cancer care today. In order to make sure our patients have access to the latest treatment innovations, we participate in many of same clinical trials that you would find at academic medical centers.
Because treatment often involves a combination of approaches, our Cancer Center assembles a specialized treatment team for each patient. This team may include some or all of the following types of specialists:
- Cancer surgeon (also known as a surgical oncologist)
- Medical oncologist to oversee drug treatments such as chemotherapy
- Radiation oncologist to oversee radiation treatments
- Gastroenterologist , who specialized in the diseases of the gastrointestinal tract
- Oncology nurse
- Registered dietitian
Our Cancer Center staff and navigator work to keep the scheduling process as smooth as possible and are available to help patients manage their appointments. People routinely come from outside the Bay Area to be treated at the Cancer Center and we are adept at assisting out-of-town patients with transportation, housing, and other needs. To learn more about treatment options, click on the following links:
Pain is a frequent and often debilitating symptom for pancreatic cancer patients. When the pain is caused by a blocked bile duct, an endoscopy can provide some relief. A small drainage tube called a stent is introduced through the throat, guided down to the blocked duct, and positioned so as to allow bile to flow across the blockage to the small intestine. In some patients the catheter is left in place for a period of time, during which bile may drain into a bag. Endoscopy is also used to leave “fiducial markers” on the tumor, reference points for imaging that can later be used to facilitate targeted radiation treatment with the CyberKnife® System.
Most pancreatic cancer patients are prescribed chemotherapy as part of their treatment plan. In chemotherapy, drugs are administered to kill the cancer cells. These drugs are typically given intravenously but can also be given in pill form. Many people don’t realize how much chemotherapy drugs have been refined and modified over the years. There are still side effects, but they are nowhere near as debilitating as they once were. Our medical oncologists discuss possible side effects in advance of your treatment so patients know exactly what to expect. El Camino Hospital Cancer Center’s chemotherapy room is located in the Cancer Center, Oak Pavilion. The room is designed for patient comfort, with natural light, baskets for snacks, and blankets.
El Camino Hospital has some of the most highly skilled cancer surgeons in the nation. While a general surgeon can certainly perform pancreatic cancer surgeries, cancer surgeons are more focused on cancer and do more specific procedures. Studies have shown surgical oncologists remove more cancer at the “margins” — the area between the tumor and healthy tissues — and have better long-term results and a lower rate of follow-up surgeries. Surgery for pancreatic cancer depends on whether or not the cancer has spread. Only about 20 percent of patients have pancreatic tumors that can be successfully removed through surgery. If surgery is called for, the surgeon will remove part of or the entire pancreas, and possibly some of the surrounding tissues. Tissues that may be removed, fully or partially, include the following:
- Duodenum (first part of small intestine)
- Common bile duct
- Lymph nodes
The most common form of pancreatic cancer surgery is the Whipple procedure, in which the head of the pancreas, part of the small intestine, the gallbladder, part of the stomach, and the lymph nodes near the head of the pancreas are removed. Less common surgeries for pancreatic cancer include total pancreatectomy and distal pancreatectomy, in which only the bottom half of the pancreas is removed. Our surgeons make sure their patients fully understand every aspect of their procedure.
El Camino Hospital in Mountain View provides radiation therapy, also known as radiotherapy, in our state-of-the-art Center for Advanced Radiotherapy and CyberKnife Radiosurgery. Typically administered over a period of several weeks, radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells and is often given along with other treatments, such as chemotherapy. Where appropriate, our radiological oncologists may also use the CyberKnife® System, a radiation treatment device that uses advanced image-guidance technology to target solid tumors with sub-millimeter accuracy.
Along with chemotherapy, our physicians may recommend an innovative drug therapy known as targeted therapy, which attacks very specific parts of cancer cells. For example, the targeted drug erlotinib (Tarceva®) blocks chemicals that signal cancer cells to grow and divide. Erlotinib is usually combined with chemotherapy for use in people with advanced pancreatic cancer. Targeted therapy tends to have fewer side effects.
Biological therapy, also known as immunotherapy, is a form of drug treatment that works by stimulating the body's own immune system to fight cancer.