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Pancreatic Cancer Care for International Patients

The Mass General Brigham gastrointestinal cancer center includes one of the largest and most experienced pancreatic cancer programs in the United States. Our innovative and collaborative approach to pancreatic cancer care ensures every patient is cared for by a team of experts in their condition, for the best possible outcome.

Male surgeon in operating room

Types of pancreatic cancer

The pancreas is a gland that makes enzymes for food digestion and hormones to help control the amount of sugar (glucose) in the blood. Pancreatic cancer happens when normal cells in the pancreas mutate or go through changes that lead to excess cell growth and tumor formation. It is a rare, but aggressive, form of cancer. 

Two main types of cancer can start in the pancreas: 

  • Adenocarcinomas start in the exocrine (digestive juice-making) pancreas cells that make up the pancreatic ducts or, less often, the cells that secrete digestive enzymes. About 95 percent of pancreatic cancers are adenocarcinomas. When people refer to pancreatic cancer, they usually mean this type.
  • Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (PNETs) are also called islet cell tumors. They start in endocrine (hormonal) cells in the pancreas. The type of PNET is based on the type of hormone they make. They can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). 

Other types of cancer that can start in the pancreas are much less common. They include rare exocrine cancers like acinar cell carcinomas, adenosquamous carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas, signet ring cell carcinomas and giant cell tumors.

Innovative pancreatic cancer treatment 

Mass General Brigham has been recognized by the National Pancreas Foundation as a premier healthcare facility that focuses on the multidisciplinary treatment of pancreatic cancer and acute pancreatitis, yielding the best possible outcomes and improved quality of life for patients.

We offer the latest, most effective treatments and promising new therapies for pancreatic cancer. Our experience performing pancreatic resections is unmatched in the northeastern United States. We also provide rapid diagnosis and staging of all biopsied pancreatic tumors, typically within 24 to 36 hours, and are one of the United States’ few advanced endoscopy services.

Your treatment for pancreatic cancer may include one or more of the following options.

Depending on your cancer's type and stage (extent), you may be eligible for neoadjuvant (preoperative) chemotherapy. Medical oncologists at Mass General Brigham use the latest therapies available to block mutations and pathways that cause pancreatic tumor cells to spread. Targeting tumor gene mutations with these "smart drugs" allows us to eradicate malignant cells without using traditional chemotherapy and radiation.

Thanks to neoadjuvant therapies, more pancreatic cancer patients are candidates for surgery. Mass General Brigham has one of the country's largest, most experienced pancreatic cancer surgery teams. We perform over twice as many pancreatic resections as other hospitals in the region and have significant expertise in advanced techniques such as the Whipple procedure, distal pancreatectomy and total pancreatectomy.

Our team emphasizes minimally invasive surgical and anesthetic techniques that result in shorter stays and fewer complications. And we take a team-based approach that brings a variety of expert specialists together to guide your comprehensive, personalized treatment.

Radiation oncologists at Mass General Brigham use the most advanced therapies to treat pancreatic cancer, many of which are available at only a select few hospitals. 

  • External beam radiation therapy delivers high levels of radiation directly to the cancer cells. 
  • Interoperative radiation therapy (IORT) is an aggressive approach that delivers radiation inside the body. It may be used with external radiation. 

Proton beam radiation — a treatment modality pioneered here — is a precise form of radiation therapy that targets tumors while helping to preserve surrounding health tissue. Mass General Brigham is also home to the only proton therapy center in the northeastern United States. We are the only hospital in the United States with two proton machines. 

A team of pancreatic cancer experts all in one place

Pancreatic Cancer: Symptoms, Treatments and How to Test for It

Thomas Clancy, MD, explains how pancreatic cancer affects the body and the research toward finding better treatments.

The Dream Team: Shifting the Pancreatic Cancer Curve

At the Mass General Cancer Center, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgeons and other specialists approach a patient’s case as one united team with a common goal – to provide the best possible care with the best chance for a cure. In this video, you’ll meet a group of those master clinicians and researchers that one patient describes as his “Dream Team”.

Pancreatic cancer clinical trials 

Mass General Brigham is home to a comprehensive research center dedicated to advancing care and extending and improving the lives of patients with pancreatic cancer through a robust and diverse clinical trial program. The institute's core team members of scientists, oncologists, surgeons, radiation oncologists and interventional endoscopists are recognized internationally as leaders in their field.

Cancer genetics, new imaging technologies, molecular profiling, drugs to target tumor plasticity and new treatments for metastatic disease are just a few examples of research we are pursuing. Several of our pancreatic cancer clinical trials are currently enrolling patients. Talk with your doctor to determine if any may be appropriate for you.

Screening for Pancreatic Cancer

Daniel Chung, MD, discusses his work on pancreatic cancer screening and innovative ways to identify the people who are at the highest risk of this preventable disease.

Pancreatic cancer care for international patients

Each year, thousands of patients from more than 120 countries travel to Mass General Brigham for medical care, second opinions and treatments unavailable anywhere else in the world. 

Mass General Brigham is experienced in caring for pancreatic cancer patients who are traveling great distances to our hospitals in Boston. Your cancer team here and our international patient services team will help you prepare for and plan the appropriate amount of time to stay in Boston for your appointments, treatments and any recovery time. During this recovery time in Boston or back home in your country, our clinical team will monitor your well-being and progressions to continuously optimize your treatment plan and symptoms. 

Our international patients often have questions about everything from travel and lodging to scheduling appointments. Our International Patient Care Team is here to help. We look forward to making your Mass General Brigham experience as healing and stress-free as possible.