Treatment for pancreatic cancer is based on the stage of the cancer and other things, such as your overall health. Surgery is done if all of the cancer can be removed. Other treatments include radiation, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy. Sometimes a clinical trial may be a good choice.
Your doctor will talk with you about your options and then make a treatment plan.
Surgery may be an option. But in most cases, the cancer has already spread so far that not all of it can be removed. If all of the cancer can't be removed, other treatments are used. These may include radiation therapy or medicines.
The types of surgery include:
- Whipple procedure.
- This is the most common type of surgery for pancreatic cancer. It removes the thick end (head) of the pancreas, part of the small intestine, and other nearby tissues. The doctor may also remove part of the stomach.
- Distal pancreatectomy.
- This removes the narrow end (tail) and the body of the pancreas. The doctor may also remove the spleen.
- Total pancreatectomy.
- This removes the whole pancreas. The doctor will also remove part of the small intestine, part of the stomach, the spleen, the gallbladder, and the common bile duct.
During surgery, the doctor may also take out nearby lymph nodes to check them for cancer.
This uses high-dose X-rays to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. It may be used before or after surgery.
Radiation may be given by using a machine outside the body (external radiation). Or it may be given by placing substances inside the body (internal radiation). External radiation is most often used for pancreatic cancer.
Medicines may be used to control the growth of cancer cells and to relieve symptoms. Medicines for pancreatic cancer include:
- These medicines kill fast-growing cells, including cancer cells and some normal cells. Chemotherapy and radiation may be given together. This is called chemoradiation.
- Targeted therapy.
- These medicines attack only cancer cells, not normal cells. They help keep cancer from growing or spreading.
- This treatment helps your immune system fight cancer. It may be given along with chemotherapy.
These medicines may be given in different ways. For example, they may be taken as a pill or injected into a vein (I.V.).
Clinical trials are research studies that test new treatments to find out how well they work. Your medical team can tell you if there's a clinical trial that might be right for you.
Treating pain and digestive problems
Pain is one of the main concerns of people with pancreatic cancer. But cancer pain can almost always be controlled. You and your doctor have several options to manage your pain.
- Prescription pain medicines. These are medicines your doctor prescribes when over-the-counter medicines don't work well enough to relieve pain.
- Nerve blocks are injections of alcohol or another liquid into the area of pain. The liquid numbs the nerves, interrupting the pain signal being sent to your brain. In some cases, the nerves carrying the pain sensation are cut in surgery.
- Sometimes radiation or chemotherapy can be used to help ease the pain by shrinking the tumor.
Sometimes the tumor presses on and blocks the bile duct or upper intestine. This can cause jaundice and problems digesting food. A hollow tube called a stent may be placed to keep the bile duct open. Or a surgical bypass may be done to create a pathway around the blocked area.
- Cancer: Controlling Cancer Pain
- Clinical Trials
- Immunotherapy for Cancer
- Nerve Block for Pain Relief
- Radiation Therapy for Cancer Pain
- Radiation Treatment for Cancer
- Whipple Surgery for Pancreatic Cancer