If you are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, your doctor will discuss treatment options. Treatment for pancreatic cancer will depend on how far it has spread. It will also depend on where the cancer is, your age, your health and your personal preference.
It may include surgery, endoscopic treatment, chemotherapy or radiotherapy, or a combination of these treatments. Your doctor may suggest palliative care options to control the tumour and symptoms, make you comfortable and improve your quality of life instead of attempting to cure the tumour.
If the cancer is in the early stages, your doctor may recommend surgery. They may recommend the Whipple operation, which is removal of parts of the pancreas, the small bowel (duodenum), the stomach, the gall bladder, and the bile duct.
Radiation uses high-energy beams such as to destroy cancer cells. It may be recommended before or after cancer surgery, often in combination with chemotherapy, or with other treatments if surgery isn't an option.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to help kill cancer cells. It can be injected into a vein or taken orally. It may be combined with radiation.
Targeted therapy uses drugs that attack specific abnormalities within cancer cells.
Treating complications of pancreatic cancer
Your doctor may suggest treatments to help with some of the complications that can arise from the cancer. These complications and treatments include:
- jaundice - placing a stent inside your bile duct to hold it open, or a bypass to create a new way for bile to flow from your liver to your intestines
- pain - pain medication, radiation therapy, or, in severe cases, an injection into the nerves to stop pain signals going to your brain (a 'coeliac plexus block')
- bowel obstruction - placing a stent in your small intestine to hold it open, or bypass surgery to attach your stomach to a lower part of your intestines
- weight loss - eating more food when you can, and pancreatic enzyme supplements to help digestion.
Last reviewed: July 2017