Our care team is nationally recognized for improving treatments and outcomes for people with pancreatic cancer.
Look to UC San Diego Health for your pancreatic care. Because pancreatic cancer is an aggressive type of cancer, it's important to choose your treatment team carefully. We see more patients with this cancer and perform more complex surgeries to treat it than any medical center in the region. We also offer prevention and screening services for those with a history of pancreatic cysts or a family history of pancreatic cancer.
Nationally Ranked Cancer Care
UC San Diego Health is repeatedly ranked among the nation's best in both cancer care and gastroenterology by U.S. News & World Report. We are also the only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in San Diego County. This is the highest possible rating for a U.S. cancer center, and it means you’ll receive the best possible care and support. Studies show patient outcomes are better at NCI-designated cancer centers.
Diagnosing Pancreatic Cancer
Your doctor may use imaging and endoscopy tests to look for pancreatic cancer. If the imaging shows something in your pancreas that looks like it might be cancer, your doctor may remove small pieces of the changed tissue. This is called a biopsy. At UC San Diego Health, your biopsy sample is analyzed by a pathologist with special training and expertise in gastrointestinal cancers. The pathologist's report and the imaging tests together are used to diagnose and stage cancer.
You may have one or more of the following types of imaging tests.
For an endoscopic ultrasound, a thin tube (called an endoscope) is put into your body while you are under sedation. A special miniaturized ultrasound at the end of the tube lets your doctor look at your organs and other tissues. The ultrasound can detect tiny growths and differentiate a tumor from a non-cancerous stone that might be blocking the bile duct.
Computed Tomography (CT) Scans
During a CT scan, a series of detailed pictures are taken of the pancreas and nearby organs and vessels. You will receive an intravenous contrast injected into your vein. The contrasting agent helps radiologists see the extent of cancer and whether it has spread to nearby organs.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
An MRI may be performed instead of or along with a CT scan. We're a leader in MRI and have a 3T scanner for high-resolution imaging of all parts of the pancreas, including areas that are hard to see with a CT scan, such as pancreatic ducts and channels. As with a CT scan, you will receive an intravenous contrast injected into your vein.
Comprehensive, Personalized Treatment for Pancreatic Cancer
Receive a personalized treatment plan, and support through your entire cancer journey from diagnosis to treatment. Your care plan may include one or more of the following.
UC San Diego Health is among a select group of medical centers nationally that can perform complex surgeries to remove pancreatic cancer. If at all possible, your oncologist will recommend surgery such as Whipple to remove the tumor. Surgery for Pancreatic Cancer
For advanced pancreatic cancer, your doctor may recommend chemotherapy with the drug Gemcitabine and Erlotinib or a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy with Gemcitabine or 5-Fluorouracil (5-FU). For widespread metastatic cancer, additional medications may be considered, too.
Radiation therapy may also be recommended before or after surgery, or if you are not a candidate for surgery. Treatment is personalized to your cancer in a multi-step process that includes consultation with a radiation oncologist, followed by a simulation visit to precisely outline the areas in your body that require treatment. Depending on the extent and location of your cancer, you may receive:
- Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT)
- Image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT)
- Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT)
Irreversible electroporation (IRE) is a new treatment for locally advanced pancreatic tumors that cannot be completely removed surgically due to the involvement of nearby blood vessels.
IRE is similar to thermal ablation therapies commonly used for liver tumors. However, since IRE does not involve heat, it is safe and effective near blood vessels. Surgery may be combined with IRE to decrease the risk of cancer recurrence in some patients.
Pancreatic Cancer Care Team
At UC San Diego Health, your cancer care is led by a multidisciplinary team of doctors who specialize in your type of cancer. Highly specialized multidisciplinary care is a hallmark of top-tier academic medical centers such as UC San Diego Health. For patients like you, it means you receive the highest level of care. Find a pancreatic cancer specialist.
Second Opinion Services
When you have a diagnosis as serious as cancer, you deserve a second opinion on your treatment options.
Pancreatic Cancer Research & Clinical Trials
Advancing Cancer Prevention & Care
UC San Diego Health physician-scientists are international leaders in research to prevent, detect and treat pancreatic cancer. If your cancer is not responding to standard treatments or if you are interested in innovative treatment approaches, talk to your UC San Diego Health doctor about whether a clinical trial might be right for you.
Patient & Family Supportive Services
At UC San Diego Health, your care goes beyond treating disease. It also includes supporting you and your loved ones emotionally during your cancer journey. Most of our support services are free.
Palliative care is designed to relieve suffering and improve your quality of life by focusing on your physical and emotional comfort during treatment. Palliative care is not reserved for end-of-life care.