Gastrointestinal Cancer

Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven works in partnership with the nationally recognized Yale Cancer Center and benefits from its ground-breaking research and world-class physicians. Our physicians have special expertise in the treatment of cancers of the pancreas, colon and rectum.

About us

Each year, nearly 180,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with some form of gastrointestinal cancer. Many of these cancers are too complex or difficult to treat with just one modality. The Gastrointestinal Cancers Program provides all gastrointestinal cancer patients with a truly multidisciplinary approach to the treatment of their complex disease.

Physicians in the Gastrointestinal Cancers Program care for patients with gastric bile duct, gallbladder, gastrointestinal, colon and rectal cancers.

Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer affects approximately 60,000 people in the United States each year. Thankfully, advances and new treatment options for patients with the disease have made the outlook for many more promising. The Gastrointestinal Cancers Program at Smilow Cancer Hospital offers patients easy access to specialized care, including new approaches to the treatment of the disease through clinical trials. As a multispecialty program, we are dedicated to providing our patients with cutting-edge technology for the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of their cancer.

Our program includes experts in diagnostic imaging, pathology, gastroenterology, surgical oncology, radiation oncology, medical oncology, genetic counseling, and supportive services. Members of the team meet regularly to discuss each case and to develop a unique, comprehensive treatment plan for each patient, in consultation with the patient's referring physician.

In addition to providing an expert approach to standard treatments, the Gastrointestinal Cancers Program offers innovative treatment options, including clinical trials for the treatment of advanced and metastatic pancreatic cancer and cutting-edge surgical techniques.

Pancreatic cancer often causes symptoms such as abdominal or back pain, weight loss, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes). Risk factors for the disease include rapid onset diabetes, a strong family history of cancer, and presence of a BRCA2 mutation. Most people have very non-specific symptoms.

Our gastroenterologists perform the most endoscopic ultrasounds in Connecticut and have dedicated expertise in evaluating the pancreas and performing fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsies of pancreatic tumors. A minimally invasive alternative to exploratory surgery, the combination of EUS and FNA offers our patients the most state-of-the-art method for pancreatic biopsies. The interventional endoscopy team also has expertise in the performance of ERCP, an endoscopic procedure that evaluates the pancreas and bile ducts and can alleviate jaundice with stenting of the bile duct.

Following a biopsy procedure, our pathologists provide skilled evaluation of pancreatic tissue biopsies to determine the tumor's aggressiveness and to assist in the staging of the disease in conjunction with the findings of specialized CT scans and EUS. The optimal treatment plan for each patient is developed by a multidisciplinary tumor board, which includes medical, surgical, and radiation oncologists, pathologists, gastroenterologists, and geneticists.

We are a regional referral center for patients in need of surgery for pancreatic cancer. There are three types of surgery available to treat pancreatic cancer: the Whipple procedure, distal pancreatectomy, and total pancreatectomy. Every surgical technique is considered for each patient before determining the best option; this varies based on the location of the tumor, stage of the disease, and the patient's overall health. Our surgeons have over 35 years of experience in performing surgery for pancreatic cancer and are the highest volume center for pancreatic surgery in Connecticut, performing approximately 90 pancreatic resections each year. Current operative techniques and careful attention to the postoperative management in and outside of the hospital optimizes the opportunity for our patients' complete recovery.

Chemotherapy is often recommended following surgical removal of a pancreatic tumor to prevent the disease from returning or to delay its return. Chemotherapy is also prescribed to treat patients with advanced or metastatic disease. Our medical oncology team provides experience and knowledge of innovative treatment options and investigational therapies for pancreatic cancer.

Yale Cancer Center is a major national research center for the development of novel therapies for late stage pancreatic cancer and provides our patients with access to the newest therapies available through clinical trials. Our medical oncologists are also searching for novel combinations of chemotherapies and tar¬geted therapies to further improve the treatment outcomes for pancreatic cancer. Our goal is to help patients live the longest possible time with the best quality of life.

Radiation therapy is often used to treat patients who are not eligible for surgery or to shrink the pancreatic tumor prior to surgery in combination with chemotherapy. Three-dimensional conformal radiation delivery techniques and four-dimensional CT simulation are used to decrease toxicity while improving tumor targeting. Stereotactic body radiotherapy is also available. Patients who are cared for through the Gastrointestinal Cancers Program at Smilow Cancer Hospital and need radiation oncology as a component of their prescribed treatment can feel confident that they are receiving the highest quality care from the most experienced team of radiation oncologists in Connecticut.

Why Smilow Cancer Hospital for Gastrointestinal Cancers

Patients are seen on an individual basis by several cancer specialists — a medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, gastroenterologist and a surgeon — on their initial visit to Smilow Cancer Hospital. These physicians work together to develop a comprehensive treatment plan that is clear and concise. In one visit, patients encounter a team of physicians who work together, combining their skills and knowledge to provide the highest quality of care.

Using a team approach, our physicians collaborate with diagnostic and interventional radiologists, gastroenterologists, hepatologists and pathologists to provide the most advanced care available. Our diagnostic imaging services include: endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) and high-resolution computed tomography (CT) scans, endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) and EUS-guided fine-needle aspiration.

Learn more about the Gastrointestinal Cancers Program at Yale Cancer Center

Make an Appointment

Contact us for more information or to schedule an appointment with a member of the Gastrointestinal Cancers Program. Our patient intake coordinators will provide you with assistance during your diagnosis, treatment, and recovery and our nurse coordinator can help answer questions that you may have. Our goal is to ensure that each patient has an outstanding and positive cancer care experience.

When you call, a patient intake coordinator will help to arrange your appointments so that you will see all of the specialists needed during an initial visit.