Three kinds of treatment are used for pancreatic cancer:
- Surgery – taking out the cancer in an operation
- Radiation therapy – using high-dose x-rays or other high-energy rays to kill cancer cells
- Chemotherapy – using drugs to kill cancer cells
A doctor may use just one method or combine methods to treat the cancer most effectively. These are some questions a person may want to ask his/her doctor before treatment begins:
- What is my diagnosis?
- What is the stage of the disease?
- What are my treatment choices? Which do you recommend for me? Why?
- What are the chances that the treatment will be successful?
- Would a clinical trial be appropriate for me?
- What are the risks and possible side effects of each treatment?
- How long will my treatment last?
- Will I have to change my normal activities?
- What is the treatment likely to cost?
Surgery is the mainstay of treatment for pancreatic cancer. Depending on the location of the tumor within the pancreas, several operations can be performed. Most commonly, the tumor is located in the "head" of the pancreas, but can also be found in the body or tail. Tumors in the head usually require a Whipple procedure, an operation where the surgeon removes the head of the pancreas as well as other tissues in close proximity. Not all tumors can be removed surgically, particularly if they have spread to other organs or if they invaded major blood vessels.
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are frequently used after surgery to reduce the risk of the tumor recurring, or coming back. Occasionally chemotherapy and radiation are given prior to surgery in an effort to reduce the tumor. When tumors cannot be removed surgically, chemotherapy can be used to slow the spread.