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Pancreatic Cancer

What is pancreatic cancer?

The pancreas is a very large gland which sits behind the stomach and in front of the spine. The pancreas is made up of two kinds of cells. Exocrine pancreas cells make enzymes that are released into the small intestine to help the body digest food. Neuroendocrine pancreas cells (such as islet cells) make several hormones, including insulin and glucagon, that help control sugar levels in the blood.

In general, pancreatic cancer forms in the exocrine cells. Unfortunately, these tumors do not secrete hormones and do not cause signs or symptoms. This makes it hard to diagnose this type of cancer early. For most patients with exocrine pancreatic cancer, current treatments do not cure the cancer.

Sometimes cancer forms in the neuroendocrine pancreatic cells which cause pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (these are also known as islet cell tumors). These tumors often do respond to treatment.

Why get treatment at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center?

The U-M Pancreatic Cancer Clinic defines the best approach to care; leads the nation in the approach to tumors; and sets the guidelines and standards now being used around the world.

  • World-class Techniques: We are pioneering a simple blood test that can be used to perform an entire clinical trial in three weeks. This enables the detection of pancreatic cancer at its earliest stages, before development of invasive cancer, and serves as an efficient sample in identifying effective drug therapy.
    • Early detection: Through genetic testing, we can now determine risk -- within in a 40-50 percent success rate -- in patients with a family history of pancreatic cancer who have not yet developed the disease. Looking ahead, we are committed to increasing the early detection of risk to 100 percent accuracy.
    • Treatment: We are personalizing drug therapies to patients by cultivating and sequencing their circulating tumor cells in the lab, cataloguing the full host of gene mutations (out of 63 possible) and treating those tumor samples with various drugs. This enables us to identify the most effective drug therapy prior to prescription.
  • Unique Collaborative Approach: We have the largest number of dedicated, interdisciplinary pancreatic cancer researchers in the country, including internationally-recognized leadership.
  • Revolutionary History: We were the first to identify the pancreatic stem cells responsible for disease spread, and to measure circulating pancreatic cells. We are innovators in creating next generation genetically-engineered models of pancreatic cancer, facilitating comprehensive study of the disease.

Learn more about pancreatic cancer and treatment at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center

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