Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic Cancer

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Pancreatic cancer can be difficult to diagnose because the pancreas lies deep in the body, and because pancreatic cancer typically causes few symptoms. As a consequence, many people with pancreatic cancer are diagnosed after cancer has spread to other organs.

If you have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, a large cancer center like Duke provides you with access to the latest diagnostic and treatment advances as soon as possible. Providing you with the best possible patient care is our number one priority.

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Treatment Options

Whipple Surgery

Whipple surgery (pancreaticoduodenectomy) is the most common operation to remove pancreatic cancer. This operation involves removal of the head of the pancreas, the first part of the small intestine (known as the duodenum), and part of your bile duct. Select patients may be candidates to have the operation performed through small incisions rather than through a single, larger incision.


Distal Pancreatectomy

Surgically removes the left side of the pancreas, and sometimes the spleen, to remove cancer if the pancreatic tumor has not spread to distant sites. This surgery is typically performed using small incisions.

​Stent Placement

A thin, flexible tube called an endoscope is inserted in the mouth and used to guide the insertion of plastic or metal mesh tubes to open a blocked bile duct.

Biliary Bypass

Surgically attaches the gallbladder or bile duct to the small intestine when a tumor blocks the bile duct and causes bile buildup in the liver (a condition called jaundice). This may also reduce pain associated with pancreatic cancer.

Biliary Drainage for Jaundice

Doctors can choose among several options to drain a blocked bile duct. New techniques allow doctors to drain the gallbladder using an endoscope, which doesn't require skin incisions.


Surgically attaches the stomach to the small intestine when cancer blocks the outlet of the stomach. A new technique allows us to do this procedure through an endoscope, without any skin incisions. This lets you eat with few limitations.


Medicine that can be given by mouth or IV that kills or slows the growth of the tumor. We often recommend chemotherapy before surgery to help reduce the size of the tumor.

Radiation Therapy

External beams deliver radiation directly to your pancreatic tumor to slow or stop cancer growth. Radiation therapy may be combined with chemotherapy before or after surgery.

Our Locations
Duke Health offers locations throughout the Triangle. Find one near you.


Duke’s pancreatic cancer specialists are leaders in the use of imaging technologies, including endoscopic ultrasound (EUS), to find pancreatic cancer at the earliest, most treatable stage. 

Endoscopic Ultrasound

A tube with an ultrasound device at its tip is inserted through the mouth to create high-quality images of the pancreas and surrounding tissue. Our gastroenterologists may also use this technology to remove and sometimes biopsy tissue and suspicious lesions, which are tested to determine if cancer is present.

CT and MRI Scans

CT and MRI images of your pancreas and the surrounding area identify how large the tumor is, whether or not it involves additional organs or blood vessels, and whether or not it has spread to other organs.

Genetic Screening Tests

May be recommended if you have a family history of pancreatic cancer.

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Why Choose Duke

Your Pancreatic Cancer Team
Our medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgical oncologists, and support team work together and meet weekly. Your personalized care is our goal.

Nutrition Is an Important Part of your Treatment
Our dedicated nutritionist evaluates all new patients and offers counseling on diet and supplements to enhance your recovery. If you require surgery, our nutritionist will help you progress to normal eating and digestion as quickly as possible, a major hurdle for many patients with pancreatic cancer.

High-Volume Whipple Center
About 100 Whipple procedures are performed at Duke annually. This complex procedure requires enormous surgical skill and a knowledgeable staff, both of which you’ll find at Duke. Studies show that patients who undergo a Whipple procedure in a major cancer center like ours experience fewer surgical complications, shorter hospital stays, and faster recovery.

Laparoscopic Whipple Experience
More than 100 laparoscopic Whipple procedures have been performed at Duke since we started doing this advanced, minimally invasive surgical procedure in 2010. Our experience has resulted in shorter operating times, less blood loss, and shorter hospital stays.

Nationally Recognized Experts
Our specialists are funded by the National Institutes of Health to study new ways to care for people with pancreatic cancer and precancerous lesions of the pancreas. Collectively, our findings have been published in more than 200 respected medical journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine. We are also part of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, an alliance of the nation’s leading cancer centers dedicated to improving patient care.

Access to Clinical Trials
As part of a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, our pancreatic cancer team is recognized for exploring new therapies through ongoing research and clinical trials. As a Duke patient, you may be eligible to participate in clinical trials that are testing new therapies before they become widely available.

Support for You and Your Family
Our comprehensive support services range from helping patients minimize the side effects of treatment to coping with the emotional and psychological effects of diagnosis and treatment. View all of our cancer support groups in our event calendar.

Duke University Hospital is nationally ranked in 10 adult specialties
Among the Best Cancer Hospitals in U.S.
Where you receive your cancer care is important. Duke University Hospital's cancer program is ranked among the nation's best by U.S. News & World Report for 2019–2020.
Reviewed: 11/22/2019