Pancreatic Cancer Treatment

If you have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, your doctor will look at following criteria to develop a treatment plan:

  1. The size and location of tumor
  2. The overall health condition of patient
  3. How the tumor has spread (stage of the pancreatic cancer)

Advanced stages of pancreatic cancer cannot always be treated with the aim of completely curing the cancer. However, combination of treatments may help relieve pancreatic cancer symptoms and prevent the cancer cells from spreading.

Pancreatic Cancer Treatment Options

There are three most common treatment options for pancreatic cancer: Surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Patients may have just one of these treatments, or a combination.


Surgery is the most common treatment for pancreatic cancer. It used to take out the tumors from pancreas. Here are some of the common surgical procedures:

  • Whipple Procedure (Pancreaticoduodenectomy): In this procedure, the surgeon removes the head of the pancreas, part of the small intestine, and some of the nearby tissues. Enough of the pancreas is left to continue produce digestive enzymes and insulin. This is the most common procedure used for treating pancreatic cancer.
  • Distal Pancreatectomy: The surgeon removes the body and tail of the pancreas. The spleen is also often removed.
  • Total Pancreatectomy: The surgeon removes entire pancreas. Bile duct, gallbladder, spleen, part of your small intestine, and surrounding lymph nodes are also removed.After a total pancreatectomy, you will need to take enzymes to help digestive system digest your food. While a total pancreatectomy is effective in overcoming the cancer, it induces permanent diabetes, requiring patient to take insulin shots or use an insulin pump for the rest of their lives. This is because the pancreas is responsible for producing insulin to regulate the blood sugar levels in the body.


Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses anti-cancer drugs to either kill the cancer cells or prevent them from spreading. It can either be taken orally (by mouth) or injected into vein.

Chemotherapy can be used as additional treatment after surgery for pancreatic cancer, often in combination with radiotherapy. In advanced stage cancer where surgery and radiotherapy are not possible chemotherapy can also be used to relieve symptoms, especially the pain rather than cure the cancer.

Chemotherapy Side Effects

Chemotherapy can cause side effects to the patient. However these are temporally and will gradually subside once the treatment has stopped.

Some of the common side effects include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Tiredness
  • Mouth sores
  • Red rash
  • Nausea and vomiting


Radiotherapy or radiation therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells or stop them from dividing. The radiation is comes an external device (linear accelerator) that directly aimed on targeted areas.

Radiotherapy is often used to treat pancreatic cancer that can not be removed by surgery. It can be administered alone or combination with chemotherapy. Treatment is usually for five days a week over several weeks. It is painless and only takes a few minutes for each treatment.

Radiotherapy Side Effects

Radiotherapy can cause some side effects because of damage to tissue around the tumor. The side effects of radiotherapy vary depending on how much of the treatment is given.

Some common side effects of radiotherapy include:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Skin rashes
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea, and
  • Vomiting

These side effects are normally only temporary and should subside once the treatment has completed.

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