January 01, 2021

Pancreatic cancer

New treatments, better outcomes

Mark Truty, M.D.

Mark Truty, M.D., Hepatobiliary and Pancreas Surgery


Pancreatic cancer begins in the tissues of your pancreas — an organ in your abdomen that lies behind the lower part of your stomach.

Pancreatic cancer often doesn't cause symptoms in its early stages when it's most curable. Thus, in many people with pancreatic cancer, the cancer has spread to other organs at the time of diagnosis. In this group, treatment is limited to chemotherapy only and does not cure the cancer.

For people in whom the cancer has not spread to other organs, treatment options may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or a combination of these — with the only known curative treatment being surgery. And, historically speaking, only a small percentage of people with confined cancer would have been considered candidates for surgery.

However, in 2019, Mayo Clinic doctors published research advances related to a specific subset of people with pancreatic cancer that would have been previously considered inoperable. This subset is the roughly one-third of people in whom the cancer has not spread to other organs, but the tumor has grown outside of the pancreas to involve critical blood vessels adjoining the pancreas. The research showed a dramatic survival benefit of surgery for those who underwent a specific treatment plan of chemotherapy and chemoradiation before surgery.

Here, Mark Truty, M.D., a Mayo Clinic surgeon and lead author of the study, answers our questions about...