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Improvements to a mainstay of pancreatic cancer could lead to faster recovery

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Monday, June 27, 2022
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Pancreatic cancer remains one of the most challenging cancers to fight. But improvements to one procedure are helping doctors chip away at it.

Pancreatic cancer remains one of the most challenging cancers to fight.

But improvements in a long-standing procedure are helping doctors chip away at it.

David Young's wife first noticed something wrong while on a golf outing.

"She looked up into my eyes and noticed my eyes were yellow," David recalls.

Blood tests led to a CT scan, which showed a spot on David's pancreas.

He came to Fox Chase Cancer Center for a second opinion, from Dr. Sanjay Reddy.

"Once I met him, I knew he was the guy I wanted to have my surgery with," he says enthusiastically.

Surgery is the primary treatment for pancreatic cancer, and the Whipple procedure is the most common operation.

It's done when the tumor is in the neck of the pancreas, and it is complicated.

"You take not a lot of amount of stuff, but it's small amounts of different parts of stuff," Dr. Reddy notes.

"You're taking out a little bit of the pancreas, a little bit of the bile duct, the gall bladder typically comes with it," he adds.

A little of the small intestine is also removed before surgeons reconstruct the digestive tract.

Whipple procedures can take from six to eight hours - longer if the tumor is wrapped around blood vessels.

Scar tissue complicated David's operation.

"Like 15 to 16 hours," he notes of his surgery in April, though when he first awoke, it felt like it had only been 2 hours.

Dr. Reddy says the Whipple procedure has dramatically improved over the years.

"As techniques are refined, the operations have gotten safer, and patients have done much better in terms of recovery," he says.

And Fox Chase is attacking pancreatic cancer in new ways.

"We're looking at different pulsed modulation doses of the radiation," says Dr. Reddy.

"One trial that we have here is utilizing three separate drugs after radiation," he notes of another approach. "We're also testing a lot of patients to see if they have any genetic variations or mutations."

Now several months past his surgery, David recently rang the bell celebrating his recovery.

"Every day, I feel like I'm getting stronger. I feel great," he says with a smile, noting that he's walking longer every day and his diet is nearly back to normal.

Dr. Reddy says every patient's cancer is unique, so every treatment plan has a personalized combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

And that approach at Fox Chase has been more successful than using one therapy alone.