Treatment options for people with cancer of the pancreas are surgery, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and radiation therapy. You’ll probably receive more than one type of treatment.
The treatment that’s right for you depends mainly on the following:
- The location of the tumor in your pancreas
- Whether the disease has spread
- Your age and general health
At this time, cancer of the pancreas can be cured only when it’s found at an early stage (before it has spread) and only if surgery can completely remove the tumor. For people who can’t have surgery, other treatments may be able to help them live longer and feel better.
Surgery may be an option for people with an early stage of pancreatic cancer. The surgeon usually removes only the part of the pancreas that has cancer. But, in some cases, the whole pancreas may be removed.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Most people with pancreatic cancer get chemotherapy. For early pancreatic cancer, chemotherapy is usually given after surgery, but in some cases, it’s given before surgery. For advanced cancer, chemotherapy is used alone, with targeted therapy, or with radiation therapy.
Chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer is usually given by vein (intravenous). The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel throughout your body.
People with cancer of the pancreas who can’t have surgery may receive a type of drug called targeted therapy along with chemotherapy. Targeted therapy slows the growth of pancreatic cancer. It also helps prevent cancer cells from spreading. The drug is taken by mouth.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. It can be given along with other treatments, including chemotherapy.
Although radiation therapy is painless, it may cause other side effects. The side effects include nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. You may also feel very tired. Your health care team can suggest ways to treat or control these side effects.
Cancer of the pancreas and its treatment can lead to other health problems. You can have supportive care before, during, and after cancer treatment. Supportive care is treatment to control pain and other symptoms, to relieve the side effects of therapy, and to help you cope with the feelings that a diagnosis of cancer can bring. You may receive supportive care to prevent or control these problems and to improve your comfort and quality of life during treatment.