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Eighteen Important Words to Know if You Have Pancreatic Cancer

Let’s Win talks about the “18 words’ you need to be aware of when being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
When you or someone you love receives a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, it can feel a bit like you’ve arrived in a foreign land.

The decisions you make are potentially life-changing and people all around you are speaking in terms you don’t understand. “It’s natural for patients and loved ones to begin reading everything they can about pancreatic cancer, and that’s a good practice,” Dr. Allyson Ocean, medical oncologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York. “But often when they begin reading medical journals or talking to members of their health care team, they get lost fixating on terms they don’t know.”

One way to get a leg up on your new world? Learn the language. Here are 18 words you are likely to encounter, and where you might hear them.

Diagnostics

When you have cancer of any type, receiving the correct diagnosis is paramount. Unfortunately, the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer can be vague and can mimic other conditions. While most doctors start with a simple computed tomography scan (CT), the following tests are also often used for diagnosing pancreatic cancer. With these tests doctors can better see a tumor’s size and location, as well as obtain a biopsy.

1. Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): ERCP combines X-ray technology with an endoscope—a thin, flexible, illuminated tube—to spot problems in the liver, pancreas, and bile ducts. Doctors place the tube down your throat and through the esophagus, stomach, and the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). Then they pass a dye through a small tube into the scope to highlight the lower organs on X-ray.

2. Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS): Like ERCP, EUS involves inserting an endoscope into the mouth and through the esophagus, stomach, and the duodenum. A small ultrasound probe at the tip of the tube emits high-frequency sound waves to capture detailed images of the chest, digestive tract, pancreas, bile ducts, and liver.

Treatment

When it comes to cancer treatment, you probably already know about radiation and chemotherapy. The following terms are also important for understanding pancreatic cancer treatment protocols.

3. Neoadjuvant therapy: The term “neoadjuvant” is used to describe treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation that is given before surgery.

4. Adjuvant therapy: Adjuvant therapy is treatment given after surgery.

5. Resectable pancreatic cancer: A cancer that is resectable means that the tumor lies within the pancreas or extends slightly beyond it. It’s resectable because it is free and clear of critical structures such as arteries and veins.

6. Borderline resectable pancreatic cancer: Tumors are given this classification if they are confined to the pancreas, but approach nearby structures. Doctors may not be able to remove the entire cancer without causing severe or debilitating symptoms.

7. Immunotherapy: Unlike chemotherapy and radiation, this unique form of cancer treatment harnesses the power of the immune system to fight cancer. There are different types of immunotherapy, including vaccines, monoclonal antibodies, and checkpoint inhibitors.

8. Stent: A stent is a small metal or plastic tube that doctors use to open a blocked duct. Doctors might place a stent in your pancreatic duct or your bile duct to help treat jaundice, or they might place one in the duodenum to treat sickness and restore your appetite.

9. Pancreatectomy: A surgical procedure where doctors remove all or part of the pancreas.

10. Whipple procedure: The Whipple procedure is an intense surgical procedure that involves removing part of the stomach, the duodenum, head of the pancreas, part of the bile duct, gallbladder, and lymph nodes in the area of the pancreas.

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