Nerves blocks for pancreatic cancer pain
A nerve block is a treatment that blocks nerves from sending messages to the brain. It can be used to treat pancreatic cancer pain. You may be able to have a nerve block on the nerves in the coeliac plexus. The coeliac plexus is a thick bundle of nerves behind the pancreas. Pancreatic cancer can damage these nerves, causing pain.
You may have a nerve block if:
- you have nerve pain that isn’t controlled
- you have a lot of side effects from opioid painkillers
- or you need increasing doses of painkillers.
A nerve block may mean you can reduce the amount of opioid painkillers you take.Nerve blocks work well for some people, but they don’t work for everyone. Speak to your doctor or nurse about whether a nerve block might be suitable for you if your pain isn’t well controlled.
If your doctor thinks a nerve block might help, you will see a team that specialises in using nerve blocks. You will continue to have other pain relief while you wait to have the nerve block.
What does a nerve block involve?
You will have a local anaesthetic so you won’t feel anything during the procedure. You may also have a medicine to relax you.
The doctor will use needles to inject alcohol into the coeliac plexus nerves. This will block the nerves from sending pain messages from the pancreas to the brain.
Doctors can do the procedure in different ways. Your doctor may use an endoscopic ultrasound scan (EUS) to guide the needles into the right place. An endoscope is a long, thin tube with an ultrasound probe at the end. The doctor passes the endoscope into your mouth and down your throat. The ultrasound probe will create a picture of the inside of your body. You will lie on your back, and the doctor will pass the needles through your upper tummy area.
Sometimes, your doctor may ask you to lie on your front, and pass the needles through your back.
Are there any side effects from having a nerve block?
You may have runny poo (diarrhoea) or low blood pressure for a few days after having a nerve block.Very occasionally, nerve blocks can cause temporary weakness in the legs. In rare cases, this weakness can be permanent.
Questions to ask your doctor or nurse
- Is a nerve block suitable for me?
- What are the advantages of a nerve block?
- Are there any side effects?
- If I have a nerve block, where and when will I have it?
More information on pain and pancreatic cancer
Updated February 2019
To be reviewed February 2021