Cedars-Sinai Blog

New Approaches to Pancreatic Cancer Care

Andrew Hendifar, MD, Cedars-Sinai, Pancreatic Cancer Clinic

Every day, about 1,300 people around the world are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which is notoriously difficult to treat.

At Cedars-Sinai, clinicians are taking novel approaches not only to attack the disease, but to improve a patient's experience during treatment. 

Dr. Andrew Hendifar, medical director of pancreatic cancer at Cedars-Sinai, says the most important thing for patients and families to know about pancreatic cancer is that treatments can help.

"The most important thing for patients and families to know about pancreatic cancer is that treatments can help."

"Although you read on the internet that the outcomes are not good for this disease, there are a lot of effective therapies," he says.

"One should not be discouraged or disheartened. Try not to read about bad statistics and instead focus on what your doctor is telling you. There are possibilities to do better and get better."

Dr. Hendifar and his colleagues are studying how a novel approach can use a tumor’s own “metabolism”—how the tumor grows and the way it interacts within the body—to kill cancer cells.

“We’re trying to take advantage of the unique metabolic profile of cancer to manipulate and kill it,” Dr. Hendifar says.

Dr. Hendifar says in addition to searching for new ways to treat pancreatic cancer, there should be a focus on keeping patients as healthy and comfortable as possible during treatment.

He uses a team approach to assure that a patient's needs are met from all angles: Patients see not only surgeons and radiation oncologists, but a dietitian and clinicians who focus on support care—preventing and treating the symptoms of the cancer and the side effects of treatment.

For example, patients with pancreatic cancer often lose weight because tumors on the pancreas damage glands that produce enzymes to help digest food.

Weight loss can impact a person's quality of life, so Dr. Hendifar and his team help patients avoid it or put weight back on by prescribing pancreatic enzyme supplements. He says the measure isn't mainstream but can significantly improve quality of life. 

"They're not prescribed enough, and they can help," he says. "Clinicians are just now catching up to this idea and this problem."

And that's just one example. Clinicians are also researching how Fitbits and virtual reality can impact patients' mood and pain levels during cancer treatment.