Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer

Treatment options for pancreatic cancer depend on the type and stage of cancer. Medical research is ongoing to determine the best methods for relieving pain and eliminating cancer.

Palliative treatment options include stenting of the obstructed biliary tree (to relieve jaundice), surgical biliary bypass (especially in younger patients), and complex pain-relief options. In addition, enzyme supplements may be useful because the main pancreatic duct is usually blocked. Chemotherapy is an option and has been shown to increase the chance of survival, especially over longer periods of time.5-7,13 Curative treatment options include partial or total removal of the pancreas to prevent metastasis. Postoperative morbidity is high (30%–40%), and patients generally require intensive care for at least 24 hours after surgery.

Survival rates also depend on the stage and type of pancreatic cancer. For current information on survival rates and statistics, please visit the National Cancer Institute.

Localized Pancreatic Tumor:

If a tumor of the pancreas is localized and blood vessels are not impacted by the tumor, surgery is often recommended to remove the tumor. In many cases after surgery, the physician will recommend additional therapy to prevent the cancer from growing back, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or both.

Pancreatic Surgeries: There are several different types of surgeries used to remove a localized pancreatic tumor. As technology has advanced, options for surgical intervention have advanced, but the type of surgery recommended depends on the stage of cancer and location of the tumor.

  • Whipple Procedure is often used to remove tumors in the head of the pancreas.
  • Distal pancreatectomy is often used to remove tumors in the tail of the pancreas.
  • Total pancreatectomy is removal of the entire pancreas, and often removal of gallbladder, spleen, and other areas as deemed necessary by the surgeon.
  • Central pancreatectomy is removal of the middle of the pancreas

Locally Advanced Tumor:

If a tumor impacts blood vessels, surgery is not usually recommended because of potential complications. For many locally advanced tumors, physicians will recommend chemotherapy and radiation therapy to try to shrink the tumor and prevent spread. If the locally advanced tumor shrinks enough and blood vessels are no longer involved, surgery may be recommended.

Symptomatic Treatment: Patents who undergo treatment for pancreatic cancer can experience different symptoms, such as significant pain, jaundice and itching, digestion problems, and depression. Your physician will treat these symptoms if they occur on a case-by-case basis, and may bring in other team members, such as pain management specialists, nutritional counseling, occupational therapy, and psychological counseling/therapy.