Get answers to the most frequently asked questions about pancreatic cancer from Mayo Clinic surgical oncologist Chee-Chee Stucky, M.D.

Hi. I'm Dr. Chee-Chee Stucky, a surgical oncologist at Mayo Clinic, and I'm here to answer some of the important questions you might have about pancreatic cancer.

Is pancreatic cancer preventable?

Technically, no. There are some risk factors associated with pancreatic cancer, like smoking and obesity. Those are both modifiable risk factors. So the healthier you are, the less risk you might have of pancreatic cancer. But ultimately if you have a pancreas, there's always a risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

Do all pancreatic cysts become cancerous?

The short answer is no. The vast majority of pancreatic cysts will not become cancerous. There are a few, but I would recommend asking your doctor about those.

How are breast cancer and pancreatic cancer connected?

The connection between breast cancer and pancreatic cancer is a genetic mutation called BRCA. So anybody who might have a newly diagnosed pancreatic cancer, but a family history of breast cancer, should definitely undergo genetic testing in order to see if there is a mutation present. If so, the rest of the family needs to undergo screening and possibly genetic testing with the hopes of potentially identifying cancer at an earlier stage.

What is the Whipple procedure?

The Whipple procedure is one of the most common procedures we do for pancreatic cancer, Specifically when located in the head or uncinate process of the pancreas. Because of where that tumor is located, we also have to remove everything that's connected to the pancreas, specifically the duodenum and the bile duct, as well as the surrounding lymph nodes. Once it's all removed, then we need to put everything back together, which includes the biliary tract, the pancreatic duct, and the GI tract.

Can you live without a pancreas?

You can definitely live without a pancreas. You will have diabetes. But fortunately with our new technologies, insulin pumps are much improved. And therefore, patients still have a good quality of life.

How can I be the best partner to my medical team?

You can be the best partner to your medical team by staying healthy, staying informed, ask a lot of questions and bring somebody with you to your appointments so they can be an additional set of eyes and ears. Never hesitate to ask your medical team any questions or concerns you have. Being informed makes all the difference. Thanks for your time and we wish you well.

Sept. 20, 2022