Weight loss, extreme fatigue and gastrointestinal discomfort following a cruise to Bermuda might have been luck in disguise for 73-year-old Bob Serrao of Northport. It was these very symptoms that prompted Mr. Serrao to visit his gastroenterologist, who ordered a CT scan. Though ultimately unrelated, these symptoms led to the discovery of a small tumor on his pancreas, and his doctor recommended he follow up with a multidisciplinary team of experts at Winthrop-University Hospital, who are leaders in pancreatic cancer care.
“When I first heard the news, I automatically thought the worst,” recalled Mr. Serrao, whose livelihood is DJing at a host of celebratory occasions alongside his wife, Janet. “I had just promised my granddaughter that I would DJ her Sweet 16 and thought to myself – what if I don’t make it?”
But because Mr. Serrao took immediate action, doctors at Winthrop were able to further evaluate and treat his cancer through a collaborative team approach that involved the expertise of a range of specialists, cutting-edge diagnostics and a minimally invasive robotic procedure.
“Pancreatic cancer is a complex disease that requires expert care from multiple providers spanning several disciplines,” said John Allendorf, MD, Vice Chairman of the Department of Surgery and Chief of the Division of Surgical Oncology & Endocrine Surgery at Winthrop-University Hospital. A renowned surgeon and head of Winthrop’s Pancreatic Cancer Program, Dr. Allendorf has pioneered several robotic and minimally invasive treatments for patients with pancreatic cancer who were previously thought to be untreatable. “At Winthrop, we have assembled a team of outstanding practitioners dedicated to providing comprehensive care to patients with pancreatic cancer and the precursors of the disease.”
The pancreas is a small gland that lies behind the stomach and in front of the spine. It is responsible for producing digestive juices that help break down food and hormones that control blood sugar. Most pancreatic cancers begin in the ducts that carry pancreatic juices and are extraordinarily difficult to treat.
“A little over half of patients present with stage four disease – disease that has spread beyond the pancreas and has metastasized to other organs,” said Dr. Allendorf. “Another challenge with pancreatic cancer is that it often involves the local blood vessels in the area, making it difficult to remove surgically.”
Kristen Mehmedi now competes in races and stays active in order to maintain her surgery results.
Before Dr. Allendorf could recommend the proper course of treatment for Mr. Serrao, he needed a better look at his tumor. With that, Stavros Stavropoulos, MD, Director of Endoscopy and Director of the Program in Advanced GI Endoscopy at Winthrop, an internationally recognized leader in the field of GI endoscopy, performed a biopsy utilizing cutting-edge technology known as probe-based confocal endomicroscopy (PCLE). By providing 1,000-times magnification, PCLE enabled Dr. Stavropoulos to conduct an “optical biopsy” in real time, on live tissue.
“PCLE technology can be used to determine whether a pancreatic cyst is cancerous or benign with a very high degree of accuracy,” said Dr. Stavropoulos.
“PCLE examination of a cancerous cyst may also help with the decision as to whether to proceed with surgery or another method of treatment.”
Mr. Serrao’s biopsy came back malignant, and he was diagnosed with a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor.
“Over half of the cysts that occur in the pancreas are from prior inflammations – they are not tumors and generally get better on their own,” said Dr. Allendorf.
“The remainder are either exocrine tumors – the more common and most serious type – or neuroendocrine tumors, which are usually slow growing and often treatable.”
“Mr. Serrao was one of the less than 20 percent of patients who are considered to have operable tumors by traditional criteria – meaning the tumor did not involve any local blood vessels,” added Dr. Allendorf.
Dr. Allendorf removed Mr. Serrao’s tumor using the ultra high-tech daVinci Si HD Surgical System. The daVinci robot’s state-of-the-art capabilities, which include 3-D High Definition visualization of the surgical site and highly precise, flexible surgical tools, enabled Dr. Allendorf to perform a minimally invasive surgery with extraordinary precision through just a couple of keyhole incisions. Mr. Serrao was out of the Hospital in just a few days. In fact, he went back to work the weekend after his surgery.
“Mr. Serrao was lucky. His initial symptoms – though unrelated to the cancer – were the very reasons that he sought medical attention and in this case, may have saved his life,” said Dr. Allendorf.
Today, Mr. Serrao’s great joy is knowing that he’ll be able to DJ his granddaughter’s Sweet 16 party coming up this June.
“I am just thrilled!” he said, adding, “There’s nothing more special than knowing I will be there to celebrate with my granddaughter, and I have Winthrop to thank for it!”
For more information about pancreatic cancer care at Winthrop, visit www.winthrop.org or call 1-866-WINTHROP.