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World Pancreatic Cancer Day Q&A with Dr. James Farrell

November 18, 2021

As we honor Pancreatic Cancer awareness day, what do you want our patients and families to pause and remember?

Pancreatic cancer is a tough disease, not just for patients but for the family members who deal with the nature of the illness and often the rapidity with which their loved ones succumb to it. However, there are many, many clinicians and researchers who are dedicating their lives to improving the outcomes and quality of life for both patients and their family members.

How do you collaborate with The Center for Gastrointestinal Cancers at Smilow Cancer Hospital and Yale Cancer Center to care for your patients?

As a gastroenterologist with an interest in pancreatic disease, I assist in providing diagnostic and therapeutic advanced endoscopic procedures for patients with pancreatic disease, including endoscopic ultrasound biopsy (EUS) and endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) at Smilow Cancer Hospital, in addition to coordinating a Pancreatic Cancer Early Detection Clinic through the Smilow Cancer Genetics and Prevention Program to evaluate individuals considered to be at a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer due to either their family history of pancreatic cancer or an inherited germline mutation such as BRCA2.

What advances have made the biggest impact in the treatment of patients with pancreatic cancer over the last 5 years?

I believe that the knowledge growth at a molecular level about the risk factors and mechanisms for pancreas cancer development is being harnessed to develop more specific therapies with better outcomes for patients with pancreatic cancer, while also allowing us to identify groups of individuals (e.g. those with a family history of pancreatic cancer, inherited germline mutations, pancreatic cysts, and new onset diabetes) who may benefit from surveillance to try and find the disease earlier.

Clinical trials can often be the best option for therapy, how do you explain this to patients who may be hesitant?

My clinical trials focus on early detection and prevention of pancreatic cancer. I explain to patients that their participation in these trials will not only provide knowledge that will help them and further the development of an early detection blood test for pancreatic cancer, but that whatever insights we gain from their participation in these clinical trials may also likely impact the lives of future generations of their family.

Is there a piece of advice or support you try to extend to your patients and their families? Words of hope?

As clinicians and researchers focused on pancreatic cancer, we function in a multidisciplinary environment where we share our expertise, follow evidence-based medicine, and are constantly trying to advance what we know about this disease. I therefore explain to patients and their families that we as a group are here for them to provide the best care and advice possible.

Submitted by Emily Montemerlo on November 18, 2021