Overview

Know the basics

Your pancreas helps your body digest food and control blood sugar. If cells inside your pancreas change and grow out of control, you can develop pancreatic cancer.

There are different types of pancreatic cancer. Each type is based on which pancreatic cells are affected. Pancreatic cancer that forms in the cells lining the ducts of the pancreas is called pancreatic adenocarcinoma or pancreatic exocrine cancer. Pancreatic cancer that forms in the hormone-producing cells of the pancreas is called pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer.

Pancreatic cancer has few or no symptoms in its earliest stages. This makes pancreatic cancer difficult to detect when it’s most treatable.

When you are at high risk of pancreatic cancer either because of a genetic predisposition or familial pancreas cancer (pancreas cancer in two or more close relatives), it’s important to find early warning signs before they turn into cancer. Learn more about our Pancreas Cancer Prevention Clinic.

Three sets of hands holding a yellow ribbon symbolizing cancer
UW Carbone Cancer Center
Patient and family visitor guide

To help you feel comfortable during your stay at the UW Carbone Cancer Center, we invite you to learn about our facility and the services we offer.

Symptoms and diagnosis

Recognizing pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer has no symptoms in its earliest stages. As the cancer progresses, symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain

  • Back pain

  • Changes to urine and stool

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin)

  • Loss of appetite

  • Weight loss

Diagnostic tests

If doctors suspect you have pancreatic cancer, they will perform several tests.

To check for specific proteins related to pancreatic cancer.

To remove a small tissue sample from your pancreas for evaluation in the lab.

To view your pancreas and nearby organs.

Second Opinions

If you are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, it’s important to know all of your options. At the UW Carbone Cancer Center, we offer second opinions on pancreatic cancer diagnoses and treatment plans.

If you would like to seek a second opinion:

Contact us

We work with oncologists across Wisconsin to analyze pancreatic tumors and recommend specific therapies. Learn more about our Precision Medicine Molecular Tumor Board.

Treatments and research

Advanced treatment options

Treatment for pancreatic cancer varies based on the type of cancer you have and how far it has progressed. Treatment options include medication, radiation and surgery.

Medication treatments for pancreatic cancer include chemotherapy, which kills cancer cells. Immunotherapy is also used to treat pancreatic cancer. Immunotherapy works by activating your immune system to attack cancer cells. Most immunotherapies for pancreatic cancer are only available through clinical trials.

Radiation therapy uses radiation to kill cancer cells.

We also offer intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) and MRI-guided radiation therapy for pancreatic cancer. Both treatments provide precise delivery of radiation. This helps preserve healthy tissue.

During surgery for pancreatic cancer, all or part of the pancreas is removed. This is called a pancreatectomy. Doctors at UW Health also perform the complex Whipple procedure. During this procedure, surgeons remove tumors located in a specific part of the pancreas called the head. The Whipple procedure is also known as a pancreaticoduodenectomy.

Advancing knowledge of pancreatic cancer 

Patients with cancer have access to more than 250 cancer clinical trials through the UW Carbone Cancer Center. For pancreatic cancer alone, we offer nearly 30 trials of new medications and therapies. Learn more or find a clinical trial.

UW Carbone Cancer Center

The experts at the UW Carbone Cancer Center intimately understand every type of cancer. We will get to know you and design a treatment plan that works for you and your family.

Learn more

Meet our team

A highly skilled team

Our pancreatic cancer team is part of the UW Carbone Cancer Center. This center is designated as a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute.

We’re also a member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network and the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium.

Our pancreatic cancer team includes:

  • Genetic counselors

  • Medical oncologists

  • Nutritionists

  • Palliative care professionals

  • Pathologists

  • Psychologists

  • Radiation oncologists

  • Social workers

  • Surgical oncologists

  • Nurse navigator

Surgical oncology
Medical oncology
Radiation oncology

Location

A national leader in pancreatic cancer care

    Patient and support services

    Find the support you need

    You and your family may find it hard to cope with a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. At UW Health and the UW Carbone Cancer Center, we offer many services and programs to support you and your family.

    Our palliative care team can help you to manage the symptoms of your disease and side effects of treatment. Learn more about UW Health’s palliative care program.

    Support groups

    Sometimes patients look to the community for support as they deal with a cancer diagnosis. Find out more about support groups in the area.

    A support group for anyone affected by GI cancer, including pancreatic cancer. Meetings offer education and support. The GI Cancer Support Group meets the third Wednesday of each month.

    Gilda’s Club

    7907 UW Health Ct.

    Middleton, Wisconsin 53562

    608-828-8880

    Pancreatic Cancer Task Force
    Pancreatic Cancer Task Force

    The UW Carbone Cancer Center has formed a Pancreas Cancer Task Force comprised of patients, family, friends, community leaders and concerned supporters to raise awareness of pancreas cancer and funds for researching diagnosis and treatment options for the disease.

    Online resources

    Patient stories

    Living life to the fullest

    Portrait of Jack Pankratz
    Jack Pankratz
    One more day with Dad? How about 1,800?

    After being told he would only have a few weeks to live, Jack and his family were able to spend several years together thanks to his good nature and the team at UW Health.