Pancreatic Cancer

Treatment

At this time, pancreatic cancer can be cured only when it is found at an early stage (before it has spread) and only if the patient is healthy enough to have an operation. However, pancreatic cancer treatments other than surgery may be able to control the disease and help patients live longer and feel better. When a cure or control of the disease is not possible, some patients and their doctors choose palliative therapy. Palliative therapy aims to improve the quality of a person's life by controlling pain and other problems caused by the disease.

People with pancreatic cancer are often treated by a team of specialists, which may include surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and endocrinologists. The choice of treatment depends on the type of cancer, the location and size of the tumor, the extent (stage) of the disease, the person's age and general health, and other factors. Cancer that begins in the pancreatic ducts may be treated with surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy. Doctors sometimes use combinations of these pancreatic cancer treatments. Researchers are also studying biological therapy to see whether it can help when pancreatic cancer has spread to other parts of the body or has recurred. Islet cell cancer is usually treated with surgery or chemotherapy. Doctors may decide to use one method or a combination of pancreatic cancer treatment methods.

Some people take part in a clinical trial (research study) using new treatment methods. Such studies are designed to improve pancreatic cancer treatment.

Surgery for pancreatic cancer may be done to remove all or part of the pancreas and other nearby tissue. The type of surgery depends on the type of pancreatic cancer, the location of the tumor in the pancreas, the person's symptoms, whether the cancer involves other organs, and whether the pancreatic cancer can be completely removed. In the Whipple procedure, the surgeon removes the head of the pancreas, the duodenum, part of the stomach, and other nearby tissue. A total pancreatectomy is surgery to remove the entire pancreas as well as the duodenum, common bile duct, gallbladder, spleen, and nearby lymph nodes.

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