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Pancreatic Cancer Prevention
At UT Southwestern Medical Center, our Pancreatic Cancer Prevention Program delivers an all-in-one experience to help people who are at high risk for the disease. We offer care for those who have been diagnosed with a pancreatic cyst or have a family history of pancreatic cancer.
Our multidisciplinary team comes together to create a comprehensive surveillance or treatment plan for each patient in a single visit.
Unmatched Expertise in Pancreatic Cancer Prevention
Prompt, precise evaluation by a multidisciplinary team of physicians and caregivers who specialize in pancreatic diseases is the most effective way to minimize the risk for developing pancreatic cancer. Early detection and treatment are of the utmost importance should there be any signs of a precancerous change or early cancer in the pancreas.
The UT Southwestern pancreatic cancer prevention team provides a level of expertise and experience in pancreatic cancer prevention that is unmatched in Texas and the surrounding region.
Pancreatic Cancer Prevention Program Highlights
- Multidisciplinary review of each patient by experts in the field
- Surgeons with extensive experience performing pancreatic surgery
- Direct access to genetics experts for patients with a significant family history of pancreas or other related cancer
- Participation in a robust research program, which seeks to identify markers of risk for development of pancreatic cancer
- Educational materials provided for patients and their families
We build long-term relationships with patients to safeguard their health and prevent serious disease. The same team of specialists reviews each patient’s results year after year, facilitating prompt identification of changes that may cause concern or require intervention. This level of intensive, long-term monitoring of patients is unique in the region.
Our physicians and scientists collaborate with peers at other academic medical centers to improve the early identification of pancreatic cancer through a large, constantly updated database. This research ensures our patients of direct access to the very latest approaches to the diagnosis, management, and treatment of pancreatic disease.
Patients diagnosed with a pancreatic cyst or a high-risk condition that predisposes them to the development of pancreatic cancer can contact us directly or be referred by a physician. Though not all pancreatic cysts are dangerous, some are premalignant lesions that can become pancreatic cancer, and evaluation by a team of experts is critical to ensuring that appropriate treatment and surveillance is initiated.
Our care coordinator will follow up with to arrange your first appointment and help organize the day. The coordinator will make sure we have the necessary medical records and information before the patient arrives, and will send an electronic questionnaire aimed at determining relevant family history and potential pancreas-related symptoms.
We see patients at UT Southwestern’s Pancreatic Cancer Prevention Clinic (PCPC) on Friday afternoons. After thorough review of the patient's medical record and imaging studies, he or she will be scheduled to be seen by a surgeon or gastroenterologist depending on his or her specific needs. Our team of surgical oncologists, gastroenterologists, radiologists, and genetic counselors review each case. Their combined insights are reflected in a detailed care plan that is customized to each patient’s needs.
Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis
If a patient has a pancreatic cyst, we have the latest technologies to help precisely diagnose it. We use cross-sectional imaging such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to visualize the cyst. In some cases, patients will also undergo a procedure called endoscopic ultrasound with fine-needle aspiration of the cyst to evaluate the fluid it contains. Cyst fluid is screened for molecular markers that are associated with a greater risk for pancreatic cancer. If further studies are required, they will be scheduled at the time of the clinic appointment.
Risk for a precancerous pancreatic cyst may be higher if a patient has a family history of pancreatic cancer or of a genetic syndrome associated with pancreatic cancer, such as hereditary pancreatitis. UT Southwestern cancer genetics experts are available to provide surveillance recommendations as well as specialized genetic testing as indicated. In many cases, this visit can be coordinated the morning of the appointment.
Treatments for Pancreatic Cancer
If we find risk for pancreatic cancer, we will develop the best treatment plan. We can usually create a treatment plan during the first visit. This plan will be shared with a patient's referring physician and primary care doctor.
In many cases, we will recommend surveillance. When treatment is needed, surgery may be the best course to prevent the development of cancer.
A pancreatic cyst that is identified as a mucinous cyst will be evaluated for a number of parameters that predict the risk of developing. The risk that the cyst poses for development into pancreatic cancer will dictate the management recommendations. All mucinous cysts will be regularly evaluated, usually on an annual basis, to make sure they are not growing or changing over time.
In general, we also recommend surveillance for people with a family history of pancreatic cancer, and the exact recommendations for management will be developed in collaboration with our cancer genetics team.
Pancreatic Cancer Surgery
If a recently diagnosed mucinous cyst demonstrates any worrisome features or if, during surveillance, such a cyst shows signs of change, surgery may be recommended.
Surgical treatment of a pancreatic cyst of the type that is associated with a higher risk for pancreatic cancer development will ideally occur before the lesion develops into a lethal pancreatic cancer.
The surgical procedure will depend on factors including the size and location of the cyst. Typically, surgery for pancreatic cysts involves removal of the part of the pancreas that is affected by the cyst, or, in rare instances, the entire pancreas.
UT Southwestern actively participates in research to improve care for patients at risk of pancreatic cancer. Ask our doctor about opportunities to participate in our pancreatic cancer clinical research program.
Because pancreatic cysts are now identified earlier through imaging studies, our understanding of how some of these cysts develop into cancer is improving. In addition to sharing data with other medical centers to improve the diagnosis and care of pancreatic cysts, UT Southwestern scientists submit the cyst fluid drawn from our patients’ pancreatic cysts into a specialized bio-repository. As discoveries are made about novel biomarkers for pancreatic cancer, the fluid can be re-tested for additional information that can be used to guide each patient’s care.