Overview of Your Treatment Choices for Pancreatic Cancer

Researchers are continually finding new ways to treat pancreatic cancer. If you have been diagnosed with this cancer, there is more hope for your survival than ever before.

The choices that you have for treatment depend on these factors:

  • Type, size, and location of the tumor in your pancreas

  • Results of lab tests

  • Extent of the disease, called the stage

  • Status of your overall health and your age

  • Your personal concerns and preferences

Many people want to learn all they can about their cancer and treatment choices, so that they can make confident decisions about their care. If you’re one of them, you’re likely to have many questions. For instance, most people with pancreatic cancer want to know if they’ll have to change their normal activities during treatment. Your doctor is the best person to answer your questions.

Your doctor may recommend a specific treatment. He or she may offer more than one treatment, giving you a choice of which one you’d like to follow. This can be a hard decision to make. There is often more than one right answer, with different possible benefits and possible risks. It’s important to take the time you need to make the best decision for you.

Types of Treatment for Pancreatic Cancer

Treatment for pancreatic cancer is either local or systemic. Local treatments remove, destroy, or control the cancer cells in one area. Surgery and radiation are local treatments. Systemic treatments destroy or control cancer cells throughout your whole body. Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment.

To help determine your treatment options, your doctor needs to know whether or not your cancer has spread. Usually, your doctor can tell if your cancer has spread by doing imaging tests, which are tests like computed tomography (CT) scans and positron emission tomography (PET) scans that help your doctor see inside your body. You may have a biopsy to help find out what type of pancreatic cancer you have. All of this information will help you decide which treatment to choose. You and your doctor will also want to consider these issues when you talk about treatment:

  • Any other serious health conditions you have

  • Your feelings about the side effects of each treatment

  • Your age

  • Anyone you know who has had cancer, which can affect your expectations of treatment

  • How likely it is that the treatment will cure your cancer, help you live longer, or relieve symptoms from the cancer.

The type of treatment you have depends on how much the cancer has spread. If it is confined to the pancreas or the area just around it, you have early-stage cancer. In this case, you may have treatment for local pancreatic cancer. If your cancer has spread to other places in your body, like the liver or the lungs, doctors call it metastatic, or advanced pancreatic cancer.

More aggressive treatments, which have more side effects, make sense when the goal is to cure the cancer. Less aggressive therapies make sense when the goal is to control or slow the cancer’s growth. Be sure you understand the goal of any treatment you get.

Doctors are always finding new ways to treat pancreatic cancer. They test these new methods in clinical trials. Before beginning treatment, ask your doctor if there are any clinical trials you should consider.