Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Treatment

Specific treatment for pancreatic cancer will be determined by your physician based on:

  • Your age, overall health and medical history.
  • Extent of the disease. 
  • Type of cancer. 
  • Your tolerance of specific medicines, procedures or therapies. 
  • Expectations for the course of the disease. 
  • Your opinion or preference.

Depending upon the type and stage, pancreatic cancer may be treated with the following:

  • Surgery– may be necessary to remove the tumor, a section of or the entire pancreas, and/or the small intestine. The type of surgery depends on the stage of the cancer, the location and size of the tumor, and the person’s health. Types of surgery for pancreatic cancer include the following:
    • Whipple procedure – if the tumor is located at the head of the pancreas (the widest part), the head of the pancreas, part of the small intestine, bile duct and stomach, and other tissues will be removed. 
    • Distal pancreatectomy – if the tumor is located in the body and tail of the pancreas, both of these sections of the pancreas will be removed, along with the spleen. 
    • Total pancreatectomy – the entire pancreas, part of the small intestine and stomach, the common bile duct, the spleen, the gallbladder, and some lymph nodes will be removed. 
  • External radiation (external beam therapy) – a treatment that precisely sends high levels of radiation directly to the cancer cells. The machine is controlled by the radiation therapist. Since radiation is used to kill cancer cells and to shrink tumors, special shields may be used to protect the tissue surrounding the treatment area. Radiation treatments are painless and usually last a few minutes. Radiation therapy may be given alone or in combination with surgery and chemotherapy.
  • Chemotherapy – the use of anti-cancer drugs to treat cancerous cells. In most cases, chemotherapy works by interfering with the cancer cell’s ability to grow or reproduce. Different groups of drugs work in different ways to fight cancer cells. The oncologist will recommend a treatment plan for each individual. Chemotherapy may be given alone or in combination with surgery and radiation therapy. 
  • Medication or procedures to relieve or reduce pain.

Long-term prognosis for individuals with pancreatic cancer depends on the size and type of the tumor, lymph node involvement and degree of metastases (spreading) at the time of diagnosis.