Liver & Pancreas Cancer Program

The Northside Hospital Cancer Institute (NHCI) Liver and Pancreas Cancer Program provides comprehensive hepatobiliary (liver, bile ducts, or gallbladder) and pancreatic cancer care and treatment services.

In 2018, it’s was estimated over 55,000 would be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

Northside Hospital’s Liver and Pancreas Cancer Program is committed to providing safe and effective care to patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, from early detection to cancer treatment and survivorship.

What Is Pancreatic Cancer?

Pancreatic cancer begins in the tissues of your pancreas — an organ in your abdomen that lies horizontally behind the lower part of your stomach. Your pancreas makes and releases enzymes into the intestines that help the body digest and absorb food, especially fats. The pancreas also makes and releases insulin and glucagon, which are hormones that help the body control blood sugar levels.

Learn more about pancreatic cancer

Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancers are difficult to detect early and do not typically produce signs or symptoms until later stages of the disease.

Hepatobiliary cancers may start in the liver, pancreas, bile duct or gallbladder, or they may spread from somewhere else in the body. While many patients do not experience pancreatic cancer symptoms at all, when they do occur, they may include:

  • Jaundice (a yellow color in the skin, mucous membranes, or white part of the eyes)
  • Decreased appetite or unintended weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain or discomfort in the abdomen or upper part of the belly
  • Back pain
  • Enlarged gallbladder or liver
  • Blood clots
  • Fatty tissues abnormalities
  • Diabetes

Learn more about the symptoms of pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic Cancer Risk Factors

Pancreatic cancer is slightly more common in women than in men and the risk for developing it increases with age. Family history of the disease also slightly increases the chance of developing pancreatic cancer. The exact cause of pancreatic cancer is unknown.

Risk factors associated with liver cancer include:

  • Obesity
  • Diets high in fat and low in fruits and vegetables
  • Diabetes
  • Long-term exposure to certain chemicals
  • Long-term inflammation of the pancreas (chronic pancreatitis)
  • Smoking and tobacco use
  • Family history of certain genetic syndromes
  • Cirrhosis of the liver

Learn more about pancreatic cancer risk factors.

There is no guaranteed prevention against pancreatic cancer; however, the following measures may reduce a person’s risk of developing pancreatic cancer:

  • Quitting smoking or using tobacco products
  • Exercising regularly to maintain a healthy weight

As part of our comprehensive approach to cancer prevention and education, Northside Hospital offers Built To Quit, a smoking and tobacco cessation program offering resources to help individuals quit smoking and stop using other tobacco products. For additional information, please call 404-780-7653, email smokingcessation@northside.com or register for a class online.

2019 Built to Quit
Class Schedule (English)

Diagnosing Pancreatic Cancer

Diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is made by a pancreatic biopsy. If tests confirm you have pancreatic cancer, additional tests will be performed to see how far the cancer has spread within and outside the pancreas. This is called staging.

Northside Hospital offers specialized care for many different types of pancreatic cancers including:

  • Pancreatic adenocarcinoma
  • Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors
  • Other disorders of pancreas

Team of Pancreatic Cancer Specialists

The strength of Northside Hospital Cancer Institute’s Liver and Pancreas Cancer Program is our multidisciplinary team of dedicated, specially trained pancreatic cancer specialists and oncology support services personnel. Our expert medical team works together to develop a personalized cancer treatment plan for each pancreatic cancer patient. Northside’s liver and pancreatic cancer care team offers a comprehensive scope of medical services, the latest technology, and leading-edge clinical research to treat pancreatic cancer.

Northside Hospital Cancer Institute’s multidisciplinary team of pancreatic cancer specialists consists of:

  • Hepatobiliary surgeons
  • Colorectal surgeons
  • Medical oncologists
  • Radiation oncologists
  • Diagnostic and interventional radiologists
  • Pathologists
  • Gastroenterologists
  • Certified genetic counselors
  • Oncology nurse navigators
  • Oncology research nurses

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NHCI’s Liver and Pancreas Cancer Program holds weekly multidisciplinary conferences providing a forum for hepatobiliary cancer specialists to review radiology and pathology images and discuss the best Pancreatic Cancer Treatment Options, including clinical trials, and agree upon an evidence-based treatment plan for each patient. By prospectively discussing pancreatic cancer cases during conference, patients get the benefit of more than a dozen expert medical opinions.

Treatment Options for Pancreatic Cancer

Northside Hospital Cancer Institute is committed to providing high quality pancreatic cancer treatment and making access as convenient as possible. As part of our high-volume cancer center for both liver and pancreas surgeries, the expertise of Northside’s surgeons has resulted in surgical outcomes that meet or exceed the highest national benchmarks.

Our accredited cancer program treats many different types of hepatobiliary cancers with the latest cancer treatments – including personalized therapies based on the cancer’s specific genetic makeup.

For more information about pancreatic cancer treatments, please expand the content below.

Northside’s experienced hepatobiliary surgeons—including our internationally recognized medical director—provide patients with innovative surgical interventions including utilization of minimally invasive techniques. Types of surgery used to treat pancreatic cancer patients include potentially: curative surgery, whipple procedure, distal pancreatectomy, and total pancreatectomy. Palliative surgery for pancreatic cancer is intended to relieve or prevent symptoms and may be recommended if the cancer has spread and cannot be completely removed.

AblationAblation is a treatment option that involves destroying the liver tumor and the cancer cells with high levels of heat aimed at the tumor. Northside offers ablation procedures for pancreatic cancer including radiofrequency ablation (RFA), ethanol (alcohol) ablation and microwave ablation.

Embolization

Embolization is a treatment option that involves injecting substances to try to block or reduce the blood flow to cancer cells in the pancreas. Northside offers embolization procedures for pancreatic cancer including arterial embolization, chemoembolization and radioembolization.

Chemotherapy, or “chemo” uses medication to destroy cancer cells by stopping growth. Chemotherapy is often part of the treatment for exocrine pancreatic cancer (the most common type of pancreatic cancer). Chemotherapy may be used at any stage of pancreatic cancer including before surgery, after surgery, or when the cancer is advanced and cannot be completely removed with surgery or if surgery is not an option.

At Northside's infusion centers, chemotherapy is provided on an outpatient basis by registered nurses who are certified in chemotherapy administration.

Radiation therapy, also called radiation oncology, uses high-energy X-rays to damage or kill cancer cells. External beam radiation therapy, or EBRT, is the type of radiation therapy most often used to treat pancreatic cancer, and focuses radiation from a source outside of the body on the cancer.

Read more about radiation therapy services at Northside.

For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. They are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.

Many of today's standard treatments for pancreatic cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new cancer treatment. Cancer patients who take part also help improve the way pancreatic cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new cancer treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.

Learn more about clinical trials at Northside Hospital

Learn more about NHCI Cancer Treatment Options

Pancreatic Cancer Support & Survivorship

Pancreatic cancer treatment and recovery can be overwhelming, which is why Northside Hospital Cancer Institute’s Liver and Pancreas Cancer Program offers access to oncology nurse navigators who support patients every step of their journey. Our oncology nurse navigators are registered nurses with extensive knowledge and training in oncology. They are available to help guide patients after diagnosis and through treatment, educating and supporting them to make informed decisions.

Support provided by oncology nurse navigators includes:

  • Clinical information and education about pancreatic cancer
  • Answering questions about cancer diagnosis, treatments and side effects
  • Facilitating communication between the patient and their care team
  • Access to emotional and psychological support, including referrals to the right counseling services and support groups
  • Monitoring each patient’s health and overall treatment progress

To learn more about oncology patient navigation or to speak with an oncology nurse navigator, please call 404-300-2800 or email nurse.navigator@northside.com.

Ongoing support is crucial when facing cancer and afterward. Northside Hospital Cancer Institute provides a full range of cancer support and survivorship programs and services to address the unique needs of pancreatic cancer patients.

Our oncology nurse navigators facilitate access to Northside Hospital Cancer Institute’s comprehensive portfolio of patient support services depending upon each patient’s unique needs.

Learn more about all of the Cancer Support & Survivorship Resources available.