New study looks at environment and pancreatic cancer – around the person and tumor

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) — Pancreatic cancer has long had one of the lowest survival rates.

But progress is being made, with new combinations of treatments.

Now, local researchers are taking a fresh approach to understanding this cancer.

Last December, Bill Ferraro didn’t know why his stomach felt full so quickly.

“Being a typical guy, it was kind of like – I’ll be fine, I’ll be fine,” Ferraro recalls.

Then Ferraro got a reality check from his wife.

“She said, Go look in the mirror, you’re yellow. So I went, looked, and I went – ‘Oh my goodness.’ She’s right,” he says

Soon, he was at Temple Hospital, having a stent put in to drain the bile.

Doctors also discovered a cancerous mass the Ampulla of Vater, where ducts from the pancreas and gall bladder drain into the intestine.

Dr. Sanjay Reddy of Fox Chase Cancer Center has begun a study of the environmental factors that might contribute to the primary type of pancreatic cancer.

“Where do you live? What sorts of food do you eat? What’s your lifestyle like? What’s your stress level like?” explains Dr. Reddy.

But his team isn’t just interested in the environment around the person, but around the tumor.

“It’s surrounded by your natural microbiome – bacteria, and fungi, and whatever else,” he says, adding, “This is where like, dietary issues, fats, sugars, lifestyle factors, like smoking and drinking, potentially can affect it.”

Blood, saliva, and other tissue will be collected at many points during a patient’s care, along with the lifestyle questionnaires.

Dr. Reddy says the survivorship needle is slowly moving on pancreatic cancer.

However, this study could move it even more by showing the way for better combinations of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

After his surgery and chemotherapy, Ferraro is cancer-free, regaining his strength, and looking forward to long beach walks near his home in Brigantine – and cheering the Phillies in person.

“We’re huge Philly fans. So I do a lot of baseball games,” Bill says happily.

Dr. Reddy says the study won’t just look at who gets pancreatic cancer, but why some people respond better to some treatments than others.

It all could help doctors treating other cancers, too.

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