What's the treatment for pancreatic cancer?
The main treatments for pancreatic cancer are surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Surgical treatment is usually performed only when the cancer is still contained entirely within the pancreas at the time of diagnosis, which occurs in about 10 percent of cases. Even when no spread beyond the pancreas seems apparent, sometimes a small number of cancer
cells may have already spread to other parts of the body but have not yet formed detectable tumors.
Surgery may be done to remove all or part of the pancreas. Sometimes it is also necessary to remove a portion of the stomach, the duodenum, and other nearby tissues. This operation is called a Whipple procedure. In cases where the cancer in the pancreas cannot be removed, the surgeon may be able to create a bypass around the common bile duct or the duodenum if either is blocked.
Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) uses high-powered rays to damage cancer cells and stop them from growing. Radiation is usually given 5 days a week for 5 to 6 weeks. This schedule helps to protect normal tissue by spreading out the total dose of radiation. The patient doesn't need to stay in the hospital for radiation therapy.
Radiation is also being studied as a way to kill cancer cells that remain in the area after surgery. In addition, radiation therapy can help relieve pain or digestive problems when the common bile duct or duodenum is blocked.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. The doctor may use just one drug or a combination. Chemotherapy may be given by mouth or by injection into a muscle or vein. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body. Chemotherapy is usually given in cycles; a treatment period followed by a recovery period, then another treatment period, and so on.
Obstruction of bile flow may be temporarily relieved by placement of a tube (stent) in the lower portion of the duct that drains bile from the liver and gallbladder. In most cases, however, the tumor eventually obstructs the duct above and below the stent. An alternative treatment method is the surgical creation of a channel that bypasses the obstruction. For example, an obstruction of the small intestine can be bypassed by a channel that connects the stomach with a portion of the small intestine that is beyond the obstruction.