When treatment to control the cancer isn’t an option

Some people with advanced pancreatic cancer may not be able to have treatment to control their cancer. Some people decide not to have treatment for different reasons. There is medical, emotional and practical support available.

For some people diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer, it may not be possible to have treatment to control the cancer. This will depend on your situation. For example, you might not be physically well enough for treatments like chemotherapy.

Being told that you can’t have any treatment to control your cancer can be a shock for you and those close to you. You may have a range of emotions, but there is support available.

Your GP, community or district nurses will care for you and provide treatments to help with symptoms. They can also help you get care and support at home.

Get support

Being told you can’t have treatment to control your cancer may be upsetting. You can speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line to talk through how you are feeling. They can also help with questions about symptoms and the support you can get.

Find out more about our specialist nurses
Specialist nurse Dianne

What medical care can I have?

You will still be able to have treatments to help with any symptoms of the cancer. This might include:

  • medicines and other treatments to help with pain
  • capsules called pancreatic enzymes to help any problems with eating and digestion
  • medicines to help with sickness or bowel problems
  • ways to manage fatigue
  • other treatments and support to help with symptoms.

Specialist palliative care

If you can’t have treatment to control the cancer, you may be referred to a specialist palliative care team. They can help manage symptoms, as well as supporting you and your family. If you haven’t seen a palliative care team, ask your GP to refer you.

Thinking about your future care 

If you have been told that you can’t have treatment to control the cancer, you might want to think about what care you would or wouldn’t want if your cancer got worse. This is called advance care planning. This can be difficult to do, but it may help you feel more prepared and in control.

Knowing what to expect 

Sometimes pancreatic cancer can grow and spread quickly. If you have been told you only have a few months to live, you may want to know what to expect. We have information and support available if you want to find out more.

You can speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line. They can explain what to expect, and how to get the support you need.

“Knowing what to expect at the end would have made things a bit less stressful.”

If you don’t want to have treatment

Some people decide they don’t want to have any treatment for the cancer. This can be for lots of different reasons, and will be a very personal decision to you. You can still have palliative care to control any symptoms.

If you can, take some time to think this over and speak to your medical team, and your family and friends. Macmillan Cancer Support have more information about making treatment decisions when you have advanced cancer.

Questions to ask your doctor or nurse

What treatments can I have to help with my symptoms?

How can I see a palliative care specialist?

What support can a palliative care specialist provide?

What support can I get at home?

What emotional and practical support can I get?

“Make the most of times when you feel well. Seeing friends, family, trips away. We even had 2 trips to Greece (with careful planning). After the inoperable diagnosis, these times kept us going.”

Published September 2020

To be reviewed September 2022