4-year pancreatic cancer survivor

Akshay Mehta, MD

Akshay Mehta, MD, was in the middle of performing an orthopedic surgery when his first pancreatic cancer symptom arose.

“I had a near syncopal episode while I was operating on a patient, which means I almost passed out,” recalls Mehta, an orthopedic surgeon in the Los Angeles area. “I figured my blood sugar was low, or that I was just tired due to overworking and a young baby at home.”

Mehta immediately had blood work done and was found to be severely anemic. He was admitted to the hospital, and additional tests revealed a tumor in the head of his pancreas. All this happened in early April 2016.

“I was shocked. I had no family history of pancreatic cancer – or any cancer. And I was only 35 years old,” said Mehta.

Initial scans showed good news and less-good news – Mehta’s tumor had not spread beyond the pancreas, but it was locally advanced within the pancreas. That meant he was not a candidate for surgery at that time.

After several rounds of grueling chemotherapy, leaving Mehta very weak from side effects and without significant improvement in his disease progression, Mehta’s oncologist recommended that he enroll in the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s Know Your Tumor® precision medicine service for molecular profiling.

Every pancreatic tumor is different. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network strongly recommends molecular profiling of your tumor to help determine the best treatment options.

Molecular profiling allows pancreatic cancer patients and their oncologists to learn about the specific biological makeup of their tumors, and this information can help guide treatment decisions.

“We were very surprised to learn that my tumor had an ALK fusion, a very, very rare alteration in pancreatic cancer patients,” Mehta said. “We were so fortunate that there is a drug available, that has been approved for other cancer types, that effectively blocks ALK’s activity.”

Mehta continued: “My tumor responded very well to the ALK inhibitor – in fact, the tumor shrank so much that I was able to undergo the Whipple surgery in May 2017.”

Today, Mehta is back working as a surgeon and spending quality time with his wife and daughter and extended family, as he continues to recover from the Whipple and continues to take the ALK inhibitor.

“I’m really grateful that we found that genetic mutation through PanCAN’s Know Your Tumor service,” added Mehta. “That’s what made me a surgical candidate, and that’s why I’m here today, I think.”

To learn more about molecular profiling, our Know Your Tumor service and pancreatic cancer diagnosis and treatment, please contact PanCAN Patient Services.

Any treatments, including clinical trials, mentioned in this story may not be appropriate or available for all patients. Doctors take many things into account when prescribing treatments including the stage and type of cancer and the overall health of the patient. Contact PanCAN Patient Services for personalized treatment options.