Pancreatic Cancer Treatments

As with any cancer, treatment for pancreatic cancer revolves around the location and size of the tumor, as well as the patient’s overall health. Similarly, the types of treatment a patient can receive will also depend on whether or not the cancer has metastasized (spread) to any other part of the body.

Pancreatic cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths for two reasons:

  • Pancreatic cancer cells reproduce rapidly, causing this type of cancer to spread quickly throughout the pancreas and the body.
  • Pancreatic cancer tends to exist independent of any symptoms in its early stages. As a result, most cases of pancreatic cancer aren’t diagnosed until they have progressed to later stages of the disease.

Like many other types of cancer, early diagnosis is key to getting early, life-saving treatments.

If a patient is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer early enough, treatment will focus on completely eliminating the malignancy. However, if the diagnosis happens in the later stages of the disease and the cancer has already spread, then treatment will attempt to prevent further cancerous growths, rather than getting rid of the cancer.

In the worst cases of pancreatic cancer, doctors focus on giving the patient palliative care, a treatment method centered on relieving a patient’s symptoms, rather than getting rid of the disease itself.

In this section, we will highlight the various methods and techniques used to treat pancreatic cancer. Our articles will describe the relative effectiveness, as well as the drawbacks, associated with each type of pancreatic cancer treatment.

Pancreatic Cancer Prevention

As with any disease or condition, the best method of treatment revolves around taking preventative measures to ensure that you never develop it in the first place. Consequently, understanding the risk factors associated with pancreatic cancer is key to preventing it.

While you can’t do anything about some risk factors, such as age, gender and race, you can take other measures, namely through making lifestyle changes, to prevent the development of pancreatic cancer. Preventative lifestyle changes include:

  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Stay at a health weight.
  • Stop smoking.

Depending on your current physical condition, diet and exercise regimens may vary. Talk to your doctor about developing a reasonable diet and exercise plan, as well as about how to quit smoking, so that you can start practicing lifestyle habits associated with pancreatic cancer prevention.

Surgical Options

Surgery is the only way to completely remove pancreatic cancer from the body. Unfortunately, however, by the time pancreatic cancer is diagnosed in most patients, surgery is no longer an option because the disease has advanced to later stages (i.e. spread to the lymph nodes and other organs in the body).

Nevertheless, when surgery is a viable option for pancreatic cancer patients, doctors can elect to perform one of the following procedures:

  • Distal pancreatectomy: If pancreatic cancer only affects the small end of the pancreas, then doctors remove it in this procedure. In some cases, the spleen is also removed.
  • Total pancreatectomy: If the cancer has affected the entire pancreas, doctors will remove it, along with the bile duct, gallbladder and spleen, through a total pancreatectomy.
  • Whipple procedure: As the most commonly used method of surgery for pancreatic cancer treatment, the Whipple procedure entails the removal of the “head” (or larger) end of the pancreas.

If surgery is a treatment option of you, talk to your doctor and weight out the benefits and risks of the various pancreatic surgical options.

Resources

Mayo Clinic (updated October 4, 2006). Pancreatic Cancer. Retrieved October 19, 2007 from the Mayo Clinic Web site: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/pancreatic-cancer/DS00357/DSECTION=1.