HOUSTON – It's an aggressive form of cancer with few early symptoms, leaving patients limited options once they are diagnosed.
But now there's a new treatment for pancreatic cancer that's showing promise and adding years to the lives of patients.
It was during a night out to dinner four years ago that Charles Karella started feeling sick.
"We're ready to eat and suddenly, I start feeling pain," Karella said.
A few weeks later, he was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer, the same disease that killed actor Patrick Swayze.
"It never occurred to me that I was going to die," Karella said.
Karella was referred to Dr. Robert Donoway, who's treating advanced pancreatic and liver cancer patients through a procedure called Irreversible Electro-Poration, or I-R-E.
The term "basically means you place a probe in a tumor, you give it an electric current and it paralyzes. It becomes permanently paralyzed," Donoway said.
The procedure gives hope for patients who are not candidates for surgical removal of their cancers and may allow them to be candidates for surgery down the road if their tumors shrink.
"I think when you take someone with no hope to giving them some sense of hope, automatically they walk out different people. They walk out with a will to live," Donoway said.
Four years after the procedure, Karella is counting his blessings.
"He had a hard time with the operation, he told me, but he did a good job. I owe him my life," Karella said.
Donoway is working on another clinical trial for the future, involving both I-R-E along with chemotherapy and radiation, to see if the results are even more impressive. KPRC 2 found several doctors and researchers who've studied and trained in this procedure at Houston's M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.