New patient-centered program at VCU Massey Cancer Center raises the bar for pancreatic cancer care
“I thank God, and I thank Dr. Kaplan,” says Lucian Tuppince, a minister at First Refuge Church of Christ who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer nine years ago. “I lost my brother to cancer, so I was determined to fight.”
VCU Massey Cancer Center recently opened its Pancreas and Biliary Neoplasm Program for patients like Tuppince. The program is the first of its kind in the Richmond area, and it aims to reduce treatment delays and improve outcomes through a multi-disciplinary, patient-centered approach.
“We are implementing a model that will provide the best care for patients with pancreatic cancer,” says Brian Kaplan, M.D., director of the Pancreas Program and surgical oncologist at Massey.
Tuppince had his tumor surgically removed by Kaplan and fortunately did not need additional treatment. However, research has shown that many patients benefit from a combination of therapies since not everyone is a candidate for surgery. Massey’s new program brings together experts in a variety of disciplines who subspecialize in pancreatic cancer to review each patient’s case and suggest the best treatment plan.
The program operates a clinic that is located at VCU Health Stony Point for ease of access. Patients arriving at the clinic will be greeted by a nurse navigator, who will guide them through imaging and lab tests in the morning and coordinate consultations with a nutritionist and social worker, if necessary. During lunch, a multidisciplinary team of surgeons, gastroenterologists, pathologists, genetic counselors and radiation and medical oncologists meet to evaluate the patient’s test results and medical history before agreeing on a suggested treatment plan. After lunch, the patient will consult with the appropriate specialists and leave with information about the next steps of their care.
“We designed our clinic so that patients see all the necessary specialists in one day at one location instead of having to coordinate multiple appointments,” says Kaplan. “This saves time and helps reduce treatment anxiety. Patients will walk out with a plan so they can focus on their health instead of worrying about their next test or appointment.”
As patients progress through their treatment plan, the same multidisciplinary team meets weekly to assess their progress and suggest adjustments to their care as needed.
Massey’s program also offers advanced treatment options as well as clinical trials only available at National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers like Massey. For example, some patients may benefit from neoadjuvant radiation therapy or neoadjuvant chemotherapy, which works to shrink the tumor prior to surgery. Or, stereotactic radiosurgery may be an option in addition to or in place of standard surgery.
Stereotactic radiosurgery precisely delivers high doses of radiation to a very concentrated area on the body,” says Emma Fields, M.D., radiation oncologist and member of the Developmental Therapeutics research program at Massey. “Instead of scalpels, we use radiation to cut through tumors and kill cancer cells that might otherwise be inaccessible.”
A clinical trial developed at Massey is currently exploring a therapy involving a novel combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy prior to surgery in patients with pancreatic cancer.
The goal of Massey’s Pancreas and Biliary Neoplasm Program is to have more patients like Tuppince who are alive and thriving long after diagnosis.
“Now, I’m just excited about life,” says Tuppince. “Sometimes things happen that are out of our control, but you can’t give up. I put my faith in God and in Dr. Kaplan, and here I am today.”
To learn more about Massey’s Pancreas and Biliary Neoplasm Program or to schedule an appointment, call (804) 828-PANC  or visit www.massey.vcu.edu/pancreas.