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Understanding the Goals of Each Type of Treatment for Pancreatic Cancer

Treatment for pancreatic cancer has these goals:

  • Remove or kill the cancer cells as quickly as possible.

  • Kill any cells that may have spread.

  • Prevent or delay the cancer from returning.

  • Slow the growth of cancer and treat symptoms when the cancer is not curable.

  • Have as few side effects from the treatment as possible, and limit any side effects that do occur.

Types of Treatment for Pancreatic Cancer

You have several options for pancreatic cancer treatment:

  • Surgery. This is the treatment of choice for pancreatic cancer that doctors can remove. There are several types of surgery. The surgery your doctor suggests depends on the stage of pancreatic cancer you have. In most cases, the surgeon only takes out the part of the pancreas with the tumor. In some cases, surgery will remove the whole pancreas. If the tumor is small and has not spread, surgery may sometimes cure the cancer. If cancer has spread, surgery has a different goal. In that case, it’s used to help ease symptoms. It is not surgery to remove the tumor. Instead, the surgeon bypasses the area where the tumor is located using your bowel. Doctors call this a bowel-bypass surgery.

  • Radiation treatment. This treatment uses high energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. Doctors may give you radiation alone or with chemotherapy. Radiation with chemotherapy may cure some people. Doctors may give this treatment after surgery to help destroy cancer cells that are still in your body.

  • Chemotherapy. This treatment you may have uses only drugs to kill cancer cells. Doctors may give this treatment alone or along with radiation. Or doctors may give it to you before or after surgery. Doctors often use chemotherapy when cancer has spread to other parts of the body. The kind you get depends on the type of pancreatic cancer you have.

Your doctor may suggest that you get more than one type of treatment. Getting 2 or more treatments is called combination treatment. It can also be called combination therapy.

Sometimes new treatments are available in a clinical trial. You can ask your doctor about clinical trials.

Some people use complementary therapies. They get standard cancer treatment, such as surgery. They also get other supportive treatments, such as yoga, massage, etc. You may want to talk about this option with your doctor.