Hope & Healing: The UF Health Blog

Have Hope: Discover Treatment Options for Pancreatic Cancer

By Kacey Finch and Peyton Thomas

Pancreatic cancer affects more than 42,000 Americans each year and is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related death in United States. By 2030, it is expected to be the second leading cause of cancer death. This Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, patients should know of the treatments available at UF Health.

With several different approaches available, treatment of pancreatic cancer is determined by the type and stage, which is the process used by physicians to describe location, size and spread of the cancer. Treatment of pancreatic cancer in the current era is personalized and based on the individual patient and disease characteristics.

Care provider standing next to a patient bed with their hand on the patient's hands“At UF Health, our pancreatic cancer team remains committed to delivering high quality, personalized patient care, while serving as a source of hope for patients and their families,” said Thomas George, M.D., FACP, a clinical investigator at the UF Health Cancer Center. “Pancreatic cancer is a challenging disease, but our team consists of leaders in the field who are dedicated to developing new treatment options through clinical research.”

For patients with earlier stage pancreatic cancer, surgery is often one of the first steps, with the intention of curing the cancer. Around the time of surgery (before or after), additional therapy is offered, including chemotherapy with or without radiation therapy.

Chemotherapy medicines are drugs that travel through the blood stream with the intent to damage and kill cancer cells by stopping them from growing and dividing. Several chemotherapy combinations have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the last several years for the treatment of resected pancreatic cancer.

Advanced stages of pancreatic cancer, which cannot be removed with surgery or has spread to other sites of body, are described as “locally advanced” or stage 4. Treatment is often intended toward control of disease. Chemotherapy does not cure metastatic pancreatic cancer, but it can relieve symptoms, slow the spread of the cancer and prolong life. Treatment options may include targeted therapy or immunotherapy.

National guidelines strongly recommend molecular profiling of the tumor and the patient to determine best personalized treatment options. The molecular profile helps determine the tumor biology, helping enhance the success of the treatment approach.

“To best treat each individual situation, UF Health performs genetic testing and a molecular profile on every patient,” George said. “This approach, in conjunction with weekly team meetings of all physicians involved in the patient’s care, allows our physicians to best target the patient’s cancer and evaluate which treatment options could be taken.”

The FDA has approved one targeted therapy drug for pancreatic cancer and immunotherapy for a small group of pancreatic cancer patients based on molecular profile and tumor biology. Several other targeted therapies and immunotherapies for pancreatic cancer are still being studied in the clinical trials and further information can be obtained from the UF Health Cancer Center or ClinicalTrials.gov.

“The ultimate goal is to create specialized therapy that allows the patient’s own immune system to identify and attack the cancer, a method that is successfully working with other cancers,” George said. “The research being conducted allows UF Health to create innovate strategies to continue the fight against pancreatic cancer.”

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