Pancreatic cancer is often deadly, but a new approach is raising hope

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By Erika Edwards

Bill Bastian was caught completely off-guard when a doctor told him that he had pancreatic cancer and would only have 15 months to live. It was August 2015 and Bastian had thought the pain in his belly was due to something he ate.

“One of the things I thought was, you got the wrong guy,” said Bastian, 69, of Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

His cancer was stage 3, meaning it had not spread from his pancreas to other organs, but had grown into a critical artery just outside his pancreas. That made it inoperable, according to his doctor at the time.

That’s when Bastian decided to seek another opinion at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. There, he received a totally different prognosis: surgery — and longer survival — were possible.

“If the patients are treated appropriately, and we can predict that their long-term outcome is going to be excellent, [surgery] is worth the risk,” said Dr. Mark Truty, a surgical oncologist at Mayo Clinic.

About a third of pancreatic cancer cases are found at stage 3. Truty estimates about half of his pancreatic cancer patients diagnosed at this stage seek his care after other physicians said their tumors could not be surgically removed. His team’s approach to treating stage 3 pancreatic cancer is different from most other oncology practices.