During the next two months, Marc's options seemed very limited. Surgeons in Minnesota determined that the tumor was inoperable, mainly because it was wrapped around a major artery and vein. He underwent chemotherapy, which did not appear to shrink the tumor to any significant degree, and he experienced other complications, such as a large abscess on his liver.
As a program manager for ISEEK.org, a Minnesota career, education, and job resource, Marc is savvy on the computer. He and his family members searched frantically for newer and innovative pancreatic cancer treatment options.
In their search, they discovered that our renowned surgical oncologist, Kevin T. Watkins, MD, chief of upper gastrointestinal and general oncologic surgery, is a pioneer using irreversible electroporation (IRE), a technique that selectively kills cancer by using electrical fields to generate pores in tumor cells, to remove pancreatic tumors.
Today, the patient is coming back to Stony Brook for his first follow-up visit
with Dr. Watkins — with renewed hope.
Dr. Watkins was the first surgeon in the world to use IRE technology to treat pancreatic cancer. In the past two years he has treated more than 20 patients with pancreatic cancer at Stony Brook University Hospital with IRE, some who traveled thousands of miles to Stony Brook for the surgery. The treatment is a last-hope option for patients who have run out of other options, and whose cancer has not spread to other areas of the body.
Marc, a non-smoker and father of two, approached his oncologist, Steven E. McCormack, MD, about the IRE procedure and Dr. Watkins. Dr. McCormack agreed that IRE may be his best chance for extended survival and quality of life with pancreatic cancer. After a consult with Dr. Watkins, Marc was scheduled for surgery on January 11 of this year.
To remove the entire tumor, Dr. Watkins used a combination of surgical methods — the standard open Whipple procedure to excise cancerous tissue on the pancreas and remove parts of surrounding organs, which are then reattached; and the IRE procedure for the tumor surrounding the vessels.
"To incorporate both surgical methods is unusual, and this approach enabled me to obtain a complete resection of Marc's tumor," says Dr. Watkins.
On January 18, Marc's pathology reports indicated that not only were the tumor margins negative but all of his lymph node tissue was negative for cancer — results which Dr. Watkins refers to as "a best case scenario." Before surgery Marc's chance of beating pancreatic cancer was virtually zero, but now, according to Dr. Watkins, it is about 25%.
"At the time my tumor was detected my prognosis was grim," says Marc. "But now my prospects for longer-term survival appear much better, and I have a lot more hope."
Marc recovered quickly from his surgery and went home. He is back on Long Island now, and today he is returning to Stony Brook University Hospital for his first follow-up visit with Dr. Watkins.
P.S. Dr. Watkins answers FAQs about pancreatic cancer and its treatment. Watch this short video (1:58 min) to see the news-making story about Dr. Watkins helping Marc Breton reported later in the day on WLNY TV 10/55 News (courtesy of TV 10/55):