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Overview of treatment options for pancreatic cancer

To work out the best pancreatic cancer treatment for you, your doctors will look at the type of pancreatic cancer you have, the stage of the cancer, where it is in the pancreas, and whether it’s spread to any of the surrounding organs and blood vessels. They will also look at other things such as your age, and your general health and fitness.

Your treatment options will depend on whether it is possible to remove the pancreatic cancer with surgery. But even if surgery to remove the cancer isn’t possible, you may be able to have chemotherapy to slow down the growth of the cancer. And there are treatments available to help with symptoms.

The medical team will discuss your treatment options with you. It’s a good idea to have someone with you – they can help you remember the discussion, or take notes. You may also want to have a list of questions to ask your doctor or nurse.

You don’t have to make any decisions there and then. You will be given time to think about your options before deciding what you want to do. You may also want to discuss things with your family or GP. Your treatment should start within 31 days of agreeing with your doctor what treatment you will have. You won’t start any treatment until you give your permission for it, usually by signing a consent form.

Treatment options for pancreatic cancer may include the following.

  • Surgery may be used to completely remove the cancer - for example a Whipple’s operation.
  • Chemotherapy may be used after, and occasionally before, surgery to remove the cancer. If surgery to remove the cancer isn’t possible, chemotherapy is used to slow down the growth of the cancer and relieve symptoms.
  • Radiotherapy may be used on its own or together with chemotherapy to control the cancer and relieve symptoms. It may also be used after, and occasionally before, surgery to remove the cancer.
  • Clinical trials are medical research studies that involve patients. Most trials in pancreatic cancer are looking at finding better treatments, including better ways of using surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Questions to ask

  • What treatment do you recommend for me?
  • What is the likely result of the recommended treatment?
  • What are the risks and side effects of the recommended treatment?
  • Can I get a second opinion? How do I go about getting one?

Published January 2018

Review date January 2020

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