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Targeted Chemo Treatments Promising for HPB Patients

November 19, 2019

Everyone knows the connection between chemotherapy and cancer. It's treatment and disease. With pancreatic cancer, maybe more than in other cancers, chemotherapy constitutes an integral part of the treatment. Medical oncologists oversee the use of chemo and other systemic treatments in patients with cancer, according to Dr. Rawad Elias, a medical oncologist who is part of the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute’s team approach to treating pancreatic cancers – part of the category called hepatobiliary (HPB) cancers. The subspecialty-trained team of experts also includes gastroenterologists, radiation oncologists and surgical oncologists who work in a coordinated fashion to discuss each patient’s case and determine the best course of action. Navigators also help guide patients through each step of the journey. In Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Elias talked about the impact medical oncologists have on a patient’s care once a diagnosis of HPB cancer is given. “Systemic chemotherapy, prescribed and managed by a medical oncologist, is an essential component of the management of HPB malignancies,” he said. He said HPB cancer patients generally fall into two categories:

  • Those who are candidates for surgery, which can be preceded or followed by chemotherapy.
  •  Those with metastatic disease for whom surgery is not an option.
“For the latter group, systemic therapy is the only treatment option," Dr. Elias said. "We use it as a means to extend survival and delay symptomatic progression of disease.” He added that the use of systemic chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer has improved significantly in the past few years. “Modern chemotherapy regimens based on the combination of two or three drugs can be used in any stages of the disease and are associated with higher response rates and longer survival,” Dr. Elias explained. Increased proficiency in managing chemo regimens for HPB cancer now enables medical oncologists to offer the treatment to a wider group of patients and not just the very fit ones. He also said targeted treatments directed to specific mutations found in the patient’s tumor are promising for patients with pancreatic cancer and cholangiocarcinoma. At Hartford HealthCare, HPB cancer patients are seen by providers specializing in the treatment of such malignancies in locations throughout the community, which makes receiving care more convenient. The providers also provide access to innovative clinical trials through Memorial Sloan Kettering for patients, especially those with pancreatic cancer. “This is extremely important as the complexity of these cancers require subspecialized care for the best outcomes. These doctors coordinate together from day one to make sure that an efficient treatment strategy is established immediately,” Dr. Elias said. HPB cancer patients who are older can also find help with the system’s Cancer and Aging Team, a group led by Dr. Elias and dedicated to supporting older patients with any cancer diagnosis to make sure treatment is tailored to them and their goals. For more information on treatment for HPB cancers at Hartford HealthCare, click here.    

Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute