On This Page:
- What Is a Specialist?
- Who Are the Doctors Who Treat Pancreatic Cancer?
- Why See a Pancreatic Cancer Specialist?
- How to Locate a Specialist Near You
- What Hospitals and Treatment Centers Specialize in Pancreatic Cancer?
- How Can I Find the Best Surgeon?
- Preparing for a Visit with a Specialist
- Things to Consider when Choosing a Doctor
Seeing pancreatic cancer specialists improves outcomes. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network strongly recommends consulting with pancreatic cancer specialists who have experience diagnosing and treating the disease.
What Is a Specialist?
A pancreatic cancer specialist is a doctor who diagnoses and treats many pancreatic cancer patients. For surgeons, this means they perform more than 15 pancreatic cancer surgeries a year.
Who Are the Doctors Who Treat Pancreatic Cancer?
Most pancreatic cancer specialists work with a team of experts to take care of you. This team has many specialties and meets regularly to discuss their patient’s care.
Some of the team members and their roles include:
- Gastroenterologists perform tests and control symptoms
- Pathologists make the official diagnosis
- Medical oncologists coordinate patients’ cancer care
- Surgical oncologists perform surgery to remove the tumor
- Radiation oncologists help control cancer that is in a small area
- Nurses, dietitians, supportive (palliative) care specialists and social workers help patients get resources and control symptoms, and they play an important role in the patient’s overall well-being
Learn more about the role each healthcare team member plays.
Why See a Pancreatic Cancer Specialist?
Pancreatic cancer is not very common. General, community oncologists and surgeons may not see patients with this type of cancer often. Pancreatic cancer specialists see and treat many pancreatic cancer patients, so they have greater knowledge of the disease and its treatment.
This is especially important for those having surgery. Pancreatic surgery is very complicated. So, you should find a surgeon at a hospital that performs many pancreatic surgeries.
For those diagnosed with rare forms of pancreatic cancer, such as pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (PNETs), it is important to see a doctor who has experience with that pancreatic cancer type.
Why Should You Get a Second Opinion?
You have a right to get a second opinion. Pancreatic cancer is rare, and general oncologists are not familiar with treating this disease. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network strongly recommends you seek a second opinion, as needed, at any point in your diagnosis.
It is important to get a second opinion from a doctor who has experience treating people with pancreatic cancer.
Second opinions are a normal part of cancer care. You may want a second opinion to:
- Confirm diagnosis and the best treatment course
- Get a different perspective
- Help you decide on a treatment plan
- Learn other potential treatment courses
How to Locate a Specialist Near You
Contact PanCAN Patient Services for a free list of pancreatic cancer specialists and high-volume surgeons near you.
Pancreatic cancer patients who live in rural areas may need to travel for this care. Comprehensive cancer centers often have the most thorough care with highly qualified doctors and specialized cancer services. But a smaller, local hospital or treatment center may also have the expert care you need.
What Hospitals and Treatment Centers Specialize in Pancreatic Cancer?
While local hospitals can offer quality care, their doctors may not have as much experience caring for people with pancreatic cancer.
Large academic cancer centers employ more doctors who are familiar with the most up-to-date pancreatic cancer treatments and research. These centers are also more likely to offer more clinical trials, a multidisciplinary team and support services than smaller, local hospitals.
Doctors and hospitals across the country specialize in pancreatic cancer. These include, but are not limited to, NCI-Designated Cancer Centers. Contact PanCAN Patient Services for a free list.
How Can I Find the Best Surgeon?
Pancreatic surgery is very complicated, especially the most common surgery, the Whipple procedure. Look for a surgeon at a hospital that does a high volume, or large number, of these surgeries.
Although 20 percent of pancreatic cancer patients may be eligible for surgery, data shows that up to half of those patients are told they are ineligible. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network strongly recommends you see a surgeon who performs a high volume of pancreatic surgeries (more than 15 per year) to determine eligibility.
For eligible patients, surgery is the best option for long-term survival of pancreatic cancer. Data show high volume surgeons at high volume hospitals have higher success rates and fewer complications. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network strongly recommends you have a high volume pancreatic surgeon (more than 15 surgeries per year) perform the surgery.
Contact PanCAN Patient Services for a free list of high-volume pancreatic surgeons near you.
If the patient’s insurance will not cover surgery at a more experienced hospital, file an appeal. Include information showing better results at high-volume facilities. PanCAN Patient Services can give you research articles to support this appeal.
Preparing for a Visit with a Specialist
Gather all medical paperwork, including test results. Some hospitals need new testing, but it may save time and money to have your earlier tests easily available.
Bring original biopsy slides and original imaging films or digital imaging film copies. You have the rights to these materials. You can get them from the hospital that performed the procedure.
What Questions Should You Ask a Specialist?
- How many people with pancreatic cancer do you care for each year?
- What have been the results for these patients? Did they have a similar diagnosis?
- Do you work with a team of expert doctors to manage care? Who are they and what are their specialties?
- What treatment(s) do you recommend? Why?
- How often will I receive treatment?
- How long will treatment last?
- What are the benefits and risks of each of my treatment options?
- What is the goal of this treatment?
- What are the potential side effects? How likely are they to occur?
- If I experience side effects, how long will they last?
- Could the side effects of this treatment interrupt the treatment schedule?
- What medicine(s) will you prescribe to help lessen side effects? Do these medicines have other side effects?
- How can I contact you in case of an emergency or if I have further concerns?
If surgery is possible, you should also ask:
- How many pancreatic surgeries have you performed? How many in the past year?
- How many pancreatic surgeries are performed at your hospital every year?
- What are the possible complications of pancreatic surgery?
- How long should I expect to be in the hospital recovering after pancreatic surgery?
- Would you be able to recommend another experienced surgeon for a second opinion?
Things to Consider when Choosing a Doctor
Consider your needs and treatment goals. Choose a doctor whose experience, personality and philosophy support these values.
You should feel comfortable and supported by your healthcare team. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network strongly recommends seeking a healthcare team that suits all of your physical, mental and emotional needs.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- Did the doctor seem interested in my questions? Was the communication easy?
- Did I get enough time to ask the doctor all my questions?
- Do I feel comfortable with the doctor and his/her recommendations?
- Will I be able to reach the doctor if I have any questions or concerns while being treated?
- Is the doctor open to me getting a second opinion?
Find a Pancreatic Cancer Specialist
For a free list of pancreatic cancer specialists or high-volume surgeons near you, contact PanCAN Patient Services. We can also help you learn more about anything related to the disease, including treatment.
Information reviewed by PanCAN’s Scientific and Medical Advisory Board, who are experts in the field from such institutions as University of Pennsylvania, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Virginia Mason Medical Center and more.