Pancreatic cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States.
On World Pancreatic Cancer Day, the rallying cry is “Demand Better”—an idea that patients, their loved ones, healthcare providers and researchers close to the disease can easily support.
“We don’t know why pancreatic cancer has become a bigger problem,” says Dr. Andrew Hendifar, medical director for pancreatic cancer at Cedars-Sinai. “This is the field I feel needs the most amount of help and I am compelled to work with the patients fighting this disease. We have a lot of work to do, and I’m all for that. We’re working really hard around the clock to get to a better place.”
“We hope by working together, we’re better able to pick the winning medications and ideas.”
There are reasons to feel hopeful for future breakthroughs in treating this disease.
One of them, says Dr. Hendifar, is the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s Precision Promise Consortium. This group of 12 institutions—including Cedars-Sinai’s Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute—is working together on clinical trials that will advance targeted treatments for pancreatic cancer with the goal of doubling pancreatic cancer survival by 2020.
“We hope by working together, we’re better able to pick the winning medications and ideas,” Dr. Hendifar says. “We’re hoping with this new consortium, we can do the research more efficiently.”
That could help safely shorten the time between discoveries being made in a laboratory and patients seeing the benefits in treatment.
Cedars-Sinai is one of the institutions currently looking at a treatment that targets an agent in the tumor that increases the internal pressure of the tumor. Researchers hope that breaking this agent down will allow drugs to be delivered more effectively. There are also studies investigating the addition of immunotherapy to radiation therapy.
In addition, Dr. Hendifar says examining the role of weight loss in pancreatic cancer is crucial. Many pancreatic cancer patients experience significant weight loss as their cancer changes the way their bodies consume calories and protein. The weight loss can make it harder for their bodies to fight the cancer.
Dr. Hendifar and his team are looking at the link between this tumor-induced weight loss and inflammation. They would like to determine if successfully treating the inflammation could help reduce weight loss and improve outcomes for patients also undergoing chemotherapy.
Dr. Hendifar’s recommendations for patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer
Find a center with expertise and clinical trials in pancreatic cancer
The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network suggests seeking out centers that treat high volumes of patients with the disease. Having more treatment options can be helpful, and centers with doctors and surgeons who specialize in pancreatic cancer are more likely to offer the latest options and access to novel therapies through clinical trials.
Retain your optimism by not spending too much time on internet research
“Try not to be Dr. Google,” says Dr. Hendifar. “Go seek out good medical advice from an experienced team, and get on the path to healing.”
Include a dietician in your care team
Weight loss is a serious complication of pancreatic cancer. A dietician who regularly works with pancreatic cancer patients and can help you maintain your weight and keep eating through treatment is a crucial member of your care team, Dr. Hendifar says.
Lastly, for anyone looking to take action on World Pancreatic Cancer Day, Dr. Hendifar suggests supporting research. Enrolling in a clinical trial is one way. Donating to support pancreatic cancer research is another.