PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) — Pancreatic cancer has long had one of the lowest survival rates.
But progress is being made, with new treatment combinations.
Today, local researchers are taking a new approach to understanding this cancer.
Last December, Bill Ferraro didn’t know why his stomach felt full so quickly.
“As a typical guy, it was kind of like: Everything’s going to be OK, everything’s going to be OK,” Ferraro recalls.
Then Ferraro was given a reality check by his wife.
“She said, Go look in the mirror, you look yellow. So I went and looked and said, ‘Oh my God.’ She’s right,” he said.
Soon he found himself at Temple Hospital, where he had a stent inserted to drain the bile.
Doctors also discovered a cancerous mass, the ampulla of Vater, where the ducts from the pancreas and gallbladder empty into the intestine.
Dr. Sanjay Reddy of Fox Chase Cancer Center has begun a study of environmental factors that may contribute to the main type of pancreatic cancer.
“Where do you live? What types of food do you eat? What is your lifestyle? What is your stress level?” explains Dr. Reddy.
But his team is not only interested in the environment around the person, but also in that of the tumor.
“It’s surrounded by your natural microbiome – bacteria, fungi and others,” he says, adding: “That’s where dietary issues, fats, sugars, lifestyle factors, like smoking and drinking, can potentially affect it.”
Blood, saliva, and other tissues will be collected at many points during the patient’s care, along with lifestyle questionnaires.
Dr. Reddy says the survival needle moves slowly in pancreatic cancer.
However, this study could move things forward even further by paving the way for better combinations of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
After his surgery and chemotherapy, Ferraro is cancer-free, has regained his strength and looks forward to taking long walks on the beach near his home in Brigantine – and cheering on the Phillies in person.
“We’re big Philly fans, so I go to a lot of baseball games,” Bill says happily.
Dr. Reddy says the study will not only look at people with pancreatic cancer, but also why some people respond better to certain treatments than others.
All of this could also help doctors treating other cancers.