HCA Virginia Physicians - March 21, 2022

According to American Cancer Society estimates, more than 49,000 people will die of pancreatic cancer in 2022, making it the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. That’s more deaths than are anticipated due to breast cancer and to prostate cancer. Yet, pancreatic cancer doesn’t seem to garner near the attention these other cancers do.

That isn’t the case at Virginia Surgical Specialists. There, Timothy R. Shaver, MD, and George Younan, MD, specialize in treating cancerous and noncancerous diseases of the pancreas as well as those of the liver, gallbladder, and bile duct. Together, Drs. Shaver and Younan offer a comprehensive pancreatic cancer program designed to find early tumors in high-risk patients and treat all people diagnosed with the disease.

Education is crucial when it comes to beating pancreatic cancer. Here are four key things everyone should know about the disease:

  1. Early detection improves survival

As with many cancers, finding pancreatic cancer early offers the best hope for a cure. Unfortunately, widespread screening doesn’t exist for the disease like it does for some other cancers.

Screening guidelines are being studied nationally, “but generally speaking, there is no good screening option at this time,” says Dr. Younan.

Still, for those at high risk of pancreatic cancer, vigilance is warranted. Among them are people with:

  • Certain genetic syndromes and a family history of pancreatic cancer
  • Hereditary conditions including:
    • BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations
    • Breast and ovarian cancer syndrome
    • Familial atypical multiple mole melanoma
    • Hereditary colon cancer
    • Peutz-Jeghers syndrome
  • People with two or more first degree relatives (parents, siblings, or children) or three or more of any relatives who have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Other factors that increase risk include chronic pancreatitis, diabetes, obesity, and smoking.

Virginia Surgical Specialists provides high-risk patients referred to their practice genetic counseling, regular evaluations, and annual imaging studies that may help find a pancreatic tumor in its earliest stages.

  1. Multiple treatments are part of patient care

Treatment for pancreatic cancer depends on factors such as the type of disease you have and its stage, or extent. Often, it involves a combination of treatments, combining surgery with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and/or immunotherapy—treatment that stimulates your immune system to find and attack cancer cells.

“The order of the treatments differs between patients depending on the size and stage of the disease,” says Dr. Younan. “But for us to be able to talk about long-term survival and potential cure of the cancer, patients have to finish all intended treatment.”

Virginia Surgical Specialists offers the most up-to date-surgical procedures. In addition, Drs. Younan and Shaver participate in the tumor board at Reston Hospital Center. There, they work together with a multidisciplinary team of physicians including medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, gastroenterologists, and other specialists who share their expertise to help each patient get the right treatment, at the right time, for their specific cancer.

Advances in chemotherapy and immunotherapy, in particular, have improved the care of pancreatic cancer patients in recent years, according to Dr. Younan.

  1. Your surgeon’s experience matters

Pancreatic cancer surgery is complex. You want a surgeon who is both knowledgeable and experienced. Those who focus on pancreatic surgery and do many procedures typically achieve the best results.

Dr. Younan completed a fellowship in hepato-pancreato-biliary surgery and is highly regarded in the field. And Dr. Shaver brings over 35 years’ experience to the team. Together, they care for hundreds of pancreatic cancer patients every year. According to The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, a surgeon must do at least 15 surgeries annually to be considered “high volume.”

“We are a practice dedicated to diseases of the pancreas, liver, and biliary tree” says Dr. Younan. “Our vast experience puts patients in good hands.”

  1. Community-based practices offer an advantage

With advances such as minimally invasive techniques and robotics (when appropriate), pancreatic surgery is more technically sophisticated than it once was. The surgery is largely done the same way it’s always been done, just with improved technology and outcomes, says Dr. Younan.

Virginia Surgical Specialists offers patients the expertise that’s common in larger centers with something that can be much harder to find there: easy access, personalized attention, and patient-centered care that helps them have the best possible outcomes.

“All of our time is dedicated to the surgical care of our patients,” says Dr. Younan. “Giving everything you have to them and being present for them at all times is what matters, really.”

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Younan or Dr. Shaver, call (571) 554-8950.