Pancreatic and Liver Cancers
Every cancer diagnosis is tragic and can be an emotional blow to patients and their family members. However, some rare cancers pose a unique set of challenges.
For example, pancreatic cancer represents only 2 percent of all cancers. Similarly, liver cancer represents only 5 percent of new diagnoses, and most of these cases are secondary or metastatic, meaning the cancer started elsewhere in the body and then spread to the liver. The liver is unusually susceptible to gastrointestinal (GI) cancers because all blood in the GI tract must pass through it while traveling the bloodstream.
Because of this, surgical removal of the liver can be very important to the outcome of cancer treatment. Patients with colon cancer that has spread to the liver typically have a low five-year survival rate. However, patients whose liver metastasis is successfully removed have a five-year survival rate that is 10 times greater.
One procedure that has been shown for decades to extend patients’ lives and potentially even cure pancreatic cancer – and other cancers – is called the Whipple procedure. This procedure was first performed in the United States in 1935 by Allen Whipple, a Columbia University surgeon. During the Whipple procedure, the surgeon removes the wide part of the pancreas, the duodenum (first part of the small intestine), a portion of the common bile, the gallbladder and even part of the stomach.
Only about 20 percent of patients with pancreatic cancer – an already rare type of cancer – are even eligible for the Whipple procedure, and intensive testing is usually needed to determine if these patients meet the criteria for surgery. Because this is so rare, many patients have to travel hundreds of miles away from home, away from their support networks of family and friends, to be treated.
Fortunately, right here in Northwest Florida, we have not only the ability to treat these rare cases, but also the experience to do so effectively.
Sacred Heart a High-Volume Center for Pancreas Surgery
Cancer specialists at Sacred Heart Hospital Pensacola have shown their ability to treat even the rarest forms of cancer effectively in a multidisciplinary approach.
In 2014, surgical oncologist Dr. Leo Villegas and general surgeon Dr. Kurt Stockamp performed enough Whipple procedures and distal pancreatectomies to make SHHP a High-Volume Center for Pancreas Surgery, according to data on outcomes and surgery volumes from the National Cancer Data Base.
The volume of these procedures makes an enormous impact on patient care. Multiple studies, including one published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, have shown that with an increase in a hospital’s volume of pancreatic surgeries comes improved long-term survival and a decrease in mortality rates, postoperative complications, length of stay and overall cost.
The difference lies not only with the surgeons, who have had extensive practice on a particular procedure, but also with the operating room and floor nurses and anesthesiologists, who are experienced and familiar enough with a procedure to recognize if recovery is not going as it should.
A Patient's Perspective
When Dan Garrity of Pace, Fla. was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he considered traveling out of state to undergo surgery but ultimately decided to receive specialized treatment from Dr. Villegas, who collaborated with Garrity’s primary care physician, medical oncologist and gastroenterologist.
“I had three doctors working in different offices, but it felt like they were all working out of one office,” said Garrity. “Everyone knew details about my case and shared information. There were no surprises.”
Dr. Villegas performed the Whipple procedure to remove parts of Garrity’s pancreas, small intestine, common bile duct, stomach and gallbladder. One month later, Garrity started a regimen of chemotherapy and radiation to reduce cancer recurrence, while being closely followed by his multidisciplinary team.
“I felt miserable from the chemo,” said Garrity, “but being able to come home every day and be surrounded by my family and sleep in my own bed, to me, that was as good as any treatment that I was receiving.”
Social Work Services
We realize a diagnosis of cancer can be very stressful. We provide social workers who can help you through this time as well as provide referral to support services in our community. For more information, call (850) 416-2770.
Chemotherapy Orientation Class
This class provides an overview of what to expect during treatment and the various side effects associated with treatment. We want you and your family to be active participants in your treatments. Your doctors and nurses will also always be available to answer your questions.
- When: Every Tuesday at 2pm and every Thursday at 10am
- Where: Sacred Heart Cancer Center at Airport - 3rd Floor, Conference Room A
Cancer Support Group
- 2nd Tuesday of each month at 2pm, 3rd floor conference room at Airport Cancer Center
- 3rd Wednesday of each month at 2pm, 3rd floor conference room at Airport Cancer Center
American Cancer Society Gift Closet
The ACS gift closet is available in the Patient Services area on the first floor of the Cancer Center. Trained volunteers are always present to assist patients in this area. The American Cancer Society provides new wigs, both human and synthetic hair, for our patients. Donations of new hats and various types of turbans are accepted from many members of area churches and also from employees of Sacred Heart Health System. All patients in the Pensacola area may visit the “closet” and choose a new wig and a few hats or turbans to assist them along their cancer journey.
Education Resource Room
The education resource area is located on the first floor of the Cancer Center. It contains free brochures, books and information on cancer and cancer related topics. The resource area is open to cancer patients, their family members and friends. A computer with complimentary internet access is also available for use. If specific educational materials are needed and cannot be found, please call Linda Wall RN at 416-2769 for assistance.