What Are Pancreatic Diseases?
Pancreatic diseases are conditions that affect your pancreas, a gland that lies behind your stomach. The pancreas has various functions, including the breakdown of food, the production of hormones, and helping control blood sugar levels. A variety of problems can affect the pancreas, such as pancreatic cancer, pancreatic cysts, or pancreatitis.
These diseases can impair the pancreas, potentially interfering with digestive enzymes and processes and leading to the formation of a bile duct blockage, causing jaundice or an inability to produce hormones that control blood sugar levels. In some cases, pancreatic diseases can lead to diabetes .
What We Treat
We care for patients with the full range of cancerous and noncancerous pancreatic diseases, including:
Signs & Symptoms of Pancreatic Disease
If you have pancreatic disease, your symptoms will depend on your type of disorder and how advanced it is. Common pancreatic disease symptoms include:
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes)
- Pain in the upper/middle abdomen that may radiate to the back
- Unexplained weight loss
- Diarrhea due to pancreatic insufficiency
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea/vomiting and indigestion
- Abdominal swelling/bloating
- Fatigue (feeling tired)
Causes of Pancreatic Diseases
There are many different risk factors for pancreatic disease, particularly pancreatitis. The most common known risks include:
- Excessive alcohol use
- Cigarette smoking
- Genetic factors, with some families inheriting a predisposition to pancreatic diseases, including pancreatic cancer
- High triglyceride levels
- Chronic inflammation
- Anatomical problems of the pancreatic and bile ducts
- Infection from certain bacteria or viruses
Advanced Diagnosis of Pancreatic Disorders
The diagnosis of pancreatic disorders can be as challenging as their treatment. NewYork-Presbyterian’s physicians use the following approaches to evaluate — and in some cases treat — disorders of the pancreas and make an accurate diagnosis as early as possible:
- 3D computed tomography (CT) angiography to stage pancreatic cancer
- High-resolution CT
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP)
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scanning to stage pancreatic cancer
- Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) with fine-needle aspiration (FNA) or fine-needle biopsy (FNB)
- Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) to evaluate and treat bile duct blockages, including EUS-guided ERCP for complex anatomy
- Pancreatoscopy, a way to examine the pancreas duct directly through a small scope
- Probe-based confocal laser endomicroscopy, using a small scope to view the small branches of the bile duct and optical coherence tomography
- EUS-guided radiofrequency ablation (RFA)
Our Approach to Care
NewYork-Presbyterian’s pancreatic care programs feature some of the best practitioners from every medical discipline. Gastroenterologists, medical and radiation oncologists, surgeons, interventional endoscopists, pathologists, nurses and nurse practitioners, genetic counselors, registered dietitians, and social workers collaborate closely to diagnose, treat, monitor, and prevent pancreatic diseases and to support our patients. Our team individualizes the plan of care to meet your personal needs. We also host support groups for people with pancreatic diseases and their loved ones to help relieve stress and share with others going through a similar experience.
How we treat pancreatic diseases
Your doctors evaluate your pancreatic disease and overall health to choose the most effective treatment for you. In addition to the latest medications and advanced surgical approaches, we offer advanced procedures such as:
- Interventional endoscopy. These procedures are performed by inserting a flexible tube into your mouth (with sedation) to gain access to the bile duct. NewYork-Presbyterian has the largest and most preeminent interventional endoscopy programs in the New York region. Procedures include conventional ERCP, but also EUS-guided ERCP for complex cases.
- Relieving pain and discomfort. Many pancreatic diseases cause problems that interfere with your ability to eat and enjoy your usual activities and can sometimes be debilitating. Our pain management teams and endoscopists offer a variety of approaches to relieve symptoms by treating pain and restoring your ability to eat. Such techniques include celiac plexus neurolysis (local anesthesia of the celiac plexus nerves in the abdomen to relieve severe pain), destruction of diseased tissue using laser or radiofrequency ablation, or implanting a spinal pump to relieve pain. Other techniques include placing a stent to relieve obstruction of the stomach/intestine, inserting a stent into a collection to allow drainage, or inserting a stent in a blocked bile or pancreatic duct to relieve an obstruction, or if necessary, inserting a feeding tube.
- Islet cell transplantation. This treatment for people who have the pancreas surgically removed involves the infusion of the patient’s own pancreatic islet cells into the liver. There they may act like a backup pancreas, independently producing insulin and enabling some patients to avoid type 1 diabetes.
- Investigational therapies. Patients whose disease cannot be effectively treated with other means may be eligible to participate in clinical trials of promising new therapies, such as those for chronic pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, and ablation of pancreatic cysts or cancers.
Get Care From Our Team of Pancreatic Disease Specialists
As part of a large institution with a track record of excellence in pancreatic research and patient care, NewYork-Presbyterian maintains our position at the forefront of treating patients with pancreatic diseases using the latest imaging applications, surgical techniques, risk assessment, genetics, screening, and early detection approaches.
Should you have a health care need that requires a specialist other than a pancreatic expert, we can connect you with the doctor you need to provide that care, too — all in one medical center. Contact us to schedule an appointment.