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Pancreatic & Biliary Duct Cancer Diagnosis & Treatment

At Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, we give hope to every person with pancreatic or biliary duct cancer. We deliver on that hope by providing world-class care throughout each person’s cancer journey, resulting in some of the nation’s best outcomes. Most people can be scheduled within 24 hours for an initial evaluation or second opinion.

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Virginia Mason Franciscan Health has been an innovative leader in pancreatic cancer for more than 40 years, and our pancreatic cancer survival rates are double the national average, as reported by the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program.

According to the Commission on Cancer, we care for the third-highest volume of pancreatic cancer patients in the nation. Our high patient volumes speak to the unsurpassed experience and expertise of our dedicated team and have resulted in world-renowned outcomes and the largest group of long-term survivors in the region.

Diagnosing pancreatic and biliary duct cancer

Doctors use sophisticated imaging technologies to look inside your body and diagnose pancreatic and biliary duct cancers, and to see if cancer has spread. These technologies include CT, MRI and positron emission tomography (PET) scans, as well as ultrasound.

If your gastroenterologist suspects a bile duct cancer based on your appearance, your symptoms and whether a blood test shows high levels of bilirubin (a waste product in blood), a definitive diagnosis is made through a procedure called endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), which enables your gastroenterologist to view the biliary and pancreatic ducts.

Treating pancreatic and biliary duct cancer

Our cancer navigators will guide you every step of the way through the initial evaluation process through your entire treatment journey, ensuring your scheduling, education and emotional support needs are met.

Pancreatic cancer treatment

Virginia Mason Franciscan Health is the only Pancreatic Cancer Center of Excellence in the state of Washington as certified by the National Pancreas Foundation. This Center of Excellence designation signifies that we offer the latest, most advanced options for treating this disease.

Most centers have one or two pancreatic surgeons. Virginia Mason Franciscan Health has four, who each perform more than 25 major pancreatic surgeries per year. Learn more about our liver, pancreas and biliary disorders services. Surgeries are performed to remove pancreatic cancer or to make it easier for patients to live with the disease. These procedures include:

  • The Whipple procedure, in which surgeons typically remove part of the pancreas, small intestine and stomach. Our team of surgeons performs more than 100 Whipple procedures per year. We also send patients home an average of seven days after the procedure—much faster than the national average of about two weeks.
  • Irreversible electrophoresis, which uses ultrasound-guided needles to apply electric pulses to the tumor. This can kill cancer cells in those with locally advanced cancer.
  • Other advanced procedures, such as distal pancreatomy, total pancreatomy, major vascular resection and reconstruction for advanced tumors.

Biliary duct cancer treatment

Surgery for biliary duct cancer may be either curative in its early stages or, in advanced stages, palliative (providing comfort care). In the later stages of cancer, your surgeon may remove part of the tumor and all of the bile duct, and surgically attach the liver or gallbladder to the small intestine to improve the flow of bile. In some cases, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy may be recommended after surgery.

If surgery isn’t the best option for those with advanced cancer, radiation therapy alone may be recommended to help shrink the tumor.

Clinical trials for pancreatic and biliary duct cancer

Virginia Mason Franciscan Health offers clinical trials of promising new medications for every phase and stage of pancreatic and biliary duct cancer, offering access to innovative therapies and gathering knowledge that helps improve treatment. 

Our team has been conducting pancreatic cancer research for more than 30 years, and has done pioneering work that led to better CT imaging, endoscopic procedures and safety protocols. We also developed the Virginia Mason Protocol, a technique for delivering chemotherapy and radiation after surgery that has produced some of the highest survival rates for pancreatic cancer. Through the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s Precision Promise projectwe’re involved in a number of studies that aim to develop targeted pancreatic cancer therapies.

Learn more about research and clinical trials.

Pancreatic and biliary duct cancer second opinions

If you’ve been diagnosed with pancreatic or biliary duct cancer, learn more about second opinions and how they may help you find all your available treatment options. 

Pancreatic and biliary duct cancer wellness and support

Cancer treatment includes more than just treating physical symptoms. Learn more about our comprehensive wellness and support services

Pancreatic and biliary duct cancer specialists

To learn more about pancreatic and biliary duct cancer or to make an appointment, find a specialist near you.