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Pancreatic Cancer - Treatment Overview

Even if treatment doesn't usually cure the cancer, it may help you live longer and feel better. The most common treatments include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Often a combination of these treatments is used.

Surgery

Surgery will be done to remove the tumor if possible. But most of the time the cancer has already spread so far that not all of it can be removed.

If surgery can remove all of the cancer, it can help you live longer. But even with successful surgery, the cancer often comes back.

If you are told that your cancer has spread too much for surgery, you may want to get a second opinion from a pancreatic cancer surgeon.

Surgery for pancreatic cancer includes:

  • Whipple procedure. This is the most common surgery for pancreatic cancer. The surgeon may remove part of the pancreas, part of the stomach, part of the small intestine, and the gallbladder and common bile duct.
  • Distal pancreatectomy. The surgeon may remove part of the pancreas and the spleen.
  • Total pancreatectomy. The surgeon may remove the whole pancreas, part of the stomach, part of the small intestine, the bile duct, gallbladder, spleen and nearby lymph nodes.

You'll be in the hospital for 1 to 2 weeks after the surgery. You will probably be able to return to work or your normal routine in about 1 month. It will probably take about 3 months until your strength is back to normal. You will probably need more treatment for the cancer, such as chemotherapy or radiation.

Depending on how much of your pancreas is removed, you may need to take enzyme supplements (to replace the enzymes the pancreas makes) and anti-ulcer pills from now on. If your entire pancreas is removed, you will need to replace the insulin produced by your pancreas. You may have to check your blood sugar levels and give yourself insulin shots.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy, sometimes called chemo, uses medicine to destroy cancer cells. The drugs used in this treatment can also affect healthy cells and cause side effects. The most common chemo drugs used for pancreatic cancer are:

Common side effects of these drugs include:

  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Hair loss.
  • Mouth sores.
  • Low blood counts, which may increase the risk of infection and bleeding.

Radiation

Radiation treatment may be used for certain types of pancreatic tumors.

External radiation is the kind of radiation most often used. It may be used along with chemotherapy. It may also be used before or after surgery.

Radiation can have side effects. The most common ones include:

  • Extreme tiredness.
  • Hair loss near the treated area.
  • Skin darkening in the area.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Pain or a feeling of fullness in the belly.

Radiation can also be used to help control pain by shrinking the tumor so that it doesn't press on nerves or other organs.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 05, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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