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Prisma Health receives pancreatic cancer clinical center of excellence designation

Thursday, April 1, 2021

GREENVILLE, S.C.—Prisma Health’s pancreatic cancer program in the Upstate has been designated by the National Pancreas Foundation (NPF) as South Carolina’s first clinical center for excellence for pancreatic cancer.

“We are thrilled to expand our National Pancreas Foundation Centers of Excellence Program to better serve the needs of patients suffering from pancreas disease,” said David Bakelman, CEO of the National Pancreas Foundation. “The NPF Centers of Excellence Program is one of the pillars of the National Pancreas Foundation, and we are looking forward to working with our current and new centers.”

National Pancreas Foundation Center status is only awarded after a rigorous audit review to determine that an institution’s focus is on multidisciplinary treatment of pancreatic cancer, treating the “whole patient” with a focus on the best possible outcomes and an improved quality of life.

South Carolina ranks as one of the higher-prevalence states for pancreatic cancer, a disease that is frequently fatal after five years. In South Carolina, approximately 1,000 new cases are expected to be diagnosed this year alone, according to the American Cancer Society. The disease is linked to smoking – with the state having some of the highest smoking rates in the nation – as well as the use of alcohol, which can lead to chronic pancreatitis. Diabetes, particularly type 3c, has been strongly associated with the development of pancreas cancer. 

“Although there have been clear improvements in survival, more can be done,” said Veeral Oza, MD, gastroenterologist and co-director of the Prisma Health Pancreatic Cancer Clinical Center of Excellence, which is part of the Prisma Health Cancer Institute. “We have the expertise to provide unique and multiple broad treatment options that allow us to customize care for each patient. This new designation underscores our commitment to customizing and providing each patient with care that is second to none and leaves no stone unturned.”

Wes Jones, MD, surgeon and co-director of the center, said, “I’m extremely proud of this accomplishment. We’ve built a cooperative, multi-disciplinary model of patient care that fosters an environment of education and open conversation about available interventions and medical treatments. Every patient’s team includes medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgeons, gastroenterologists, nursing specialists, pain management specialists and interventional radiologists all in one location – thinking about that patient having the best possible results from his or her treatments.” Genetic counselors, nutrition specialists and psycho-social support staff are also part of the team.

The center of excellence offers procedures that aren’t broadly available elsewhere, including clinical trials, leading-edge procedures and a therapeutic interventional endoscopy program that includes medical, surgical, oncologic and radiologic approaches.

“At Prisma Health, pancreatic cancer patients can access the most advanced clinical trials and expertise available – here in their own back yard,” said Ki Chung, MD, a medical oncologist with Prisma Health Cancer Institute. “We’re very proud to be part of this multidisciplinary team working to fight this disease.”

More than 300 cancer clinical trials – including some targeting pancreatic cancer – are open at any time at the Cancer Institute. Trials include Phase I, Phase II and Phase III treatment trials, as well as prevention trials, symptom management trials and quality-of-life trials. The Cancer Institute is part of the National Cancer Institute’s elite Community Oncology Research Program.

Most cases of pancreatic cancer occur after the age of 60, and rarely does it occur before the age of 40. The largest risk factors for pancreatic cancer are smoking and a history of chronic pancreatitis, which increase the risk by three times and six times, respectively, according to the American Cancer Society.

To help fight pancreatic cancer, Prisma Health urges community members to avoid smoking, curtail alcohol use but also to watch for warning signs and symptoms.

Pancreatic cancer symptoms include the following:

  • Jaundice
  • Dark urine
  • Light-colored stools
  • Itchy skin
  • Abdominal or back pain
  • Weight loss and poor appetite
  • Digestive problems
  • Gallbladder enlargement
  • Blood clots
  • Fatty tissue abnormalities

Diabetes can be one of the first warning signs of pancreatic cancer, particularly in patients who are newly diagnosed with diabetes after age 60 or in those who already have diabetes but suddenly struggle to achieve good glucose control.

For more information about pancreatic cancer, visit PrismaHealth.org/PancreaticCancer. For more information about the National Pancreas Foundation, visit www.pancreasfoundation.org.

About Prisma Health

Prisma Health is a not-for-profit health company and the largest healthcare system in South Carolina. With nearly 30,000 team members, 18 hospitals, 2,947 beds and more than 300 outpatient sites with nearly 2,000 physicians, Prisma Health serves more than 1.2 million unique patients annually in its 21-county market area that covers 50% of South Carolina. Prisma Health’s goal is to improve the health of all South Carolinians by enhancing clinical quality, the patient experience and access to affordable care, as well as conducting clinical research and training the next generation of medical professionals. For more information, visit PrismaHealth.org.

About the National Pancreas Foundation

Founded in 1997, the National Pancreas Foundation provides hope for those suffering from pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer through funding cutting-edge research, advocating for new and better therapies and providing support and education for patients, caregivers and healthcare professionals. The NPF is the only foundation dedicated to patients suffering from all forms of pancreas disease. For more information visit: www.pancreasfoundation.org.

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