When Mark Truty, M.D., was just 19, his 58-year-old father died from pancreatic cancer. "He went to the operating room, had major complications, never got chemotherapy, and died in my arms six months later," Dr. Truty tells Sharing Mayo Clinic.
That experience shaped Dr. Truty's life's work. He became a surgical oncologist at Mayo Clinic, and he has dedicated his career "to giving patients with pancreatic cancer more quality time with their loved ones," according to Mayo's Advancing the Science in an article originally published in Mayo Clinic Alumni. "When I got into medicine, I knew we had to advance the science and treatment for this disease," he tells the publication. "Patients want to know there's hope. They want another holiday with their loved ones. After they're diagnosed, they ask me if they'll live to see another Christmas. Now I get to tell many of them yes."
Those "yeses" come courtesy of a game-changing treatment strategy developed by Dr. Truty and his colleagues. Their approach involves using new chemotherapy drugs before surgery, rather than afterward, giving the medication "a chance to shrink the tumor and hunt down cancer cells that had spread far away from the pancreas," Sharing Mayo Clinic reports. Patients then receive radiation therapy and finally, if the tumors have responded to treatment and the patient is strong enough, aggressive operations that "few other doctors attempt." Dr. Truty tells the publication that half his patients have been told elsewhere that their tumors can't be removed. "These are patients that have been told they have no hope."
The new approach pioneered by Dr. Truty is showing promising results. "The numbers don't lie," reports Advancing the Science. "Patients with stage III pancreatic cancer (traditionally inoperable) have had eye-popping improvement in their outcomes." How eye-popping? "Data on more than 160 patients with stage III cancer show remarkable success. With conventional treatment, their expected median survival would be less than a year. Their actual median survival is more than 50 months and counting. The majority of these patients show no signs of cancer."
Dr. Truty wants that message to reach everyone diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. "I don't care what you've been told elsewhere. Come here and get another opinion," he says. "Many community providers aren't aware of the revolution underway in the treatment of pancreatic cancer. I'll be happy when pancreatic patients around the world have the hope our patients feel."