Pancreatic cancer treatment depends largely on how far the cancer has spread throughout the body. If cancer has remained localized, as it has in about 10% of the diagnosed cases of pancreatitis cancer, then surgery may be a viable option for pancreatic cancer treatment. If the cancer has spread and has infected the surrounding blood vessels, then treatment through surgery is no longer an option. If the pancreatic cancer is unrespectable, or cannot be treatable by surgery, the non-surgical treatments must be followed. Nonsurgical treatments for pancreatic cancer normally involve chemotherapy and radiation treatment. In some cases chemotherapy is administered without radiation.
As the pancreatic cancer advances, the treatment may shift from extending life and treating the cancer to reducing the amount of pain that patients feel. There are several different medications available that can help to reduce pain, although some of these have serious effects on a patient’s lifestyle. At this time, there are no pancreatic cancer cures available, although researchers are currently looking for better treatment methods.
Pancreatic cancer can be particularly painful, especially during the later stages when the cancer has advanced to different parts of the body beyond the pancreas. This form of treatment, managing pain as opposed to treating the disease, is known as palliative treatment. Many patients will receive treatment for pancreatic cancer as well as pain killing medication. Morphine is just one strong pain killer that some patients of pancreatic cancer receive. Many patients also undergo certain surgeries, like a bile duct stent, which can help to reduce itching and loss of appetite. Antidepressants are also commonly taken by patients with pancreatic cancer. Although these treatments do not help to prevent pancreatic cancer from spreading, they do help to treat the symptoms of pancreas disease.
Patients who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer during the early stages of the disease can often be helped by pancreatic cancer surgery. There are three different surgical procedures that are performed, although the effectiveness of each has been brought into question. The Whipple procedure involves removing the head of the pancreas, part of the stomach and the small intestine, some lymph nodes, the gallbladder, and the common bile duct. The organs that remain are then reconnected to form a new digestive system. If the surgeon discovers during the operation that the cancer has spread, then the operation is usually aborted. Two other surgeries involve removing only the pancreas or a part of the pancreas; these are the distal pancreatecomy and a total pancreatectomy. In a distal surgery, only the tail and body of the pancreas are removed. In a total pancreatectomy, the entire pancreas is removed.
Chemotherapy and Radiation
Following surgery, or as a preliminary pancreatitis cancer treatment if the cancer has advanced enough, patients will be given chemotherapy drugs and may also be subjected to radiation treatments. Chemotherapy drugs are sent throughout the whole body and kill cancer cells that have developed. Chemotherapy can also kill some other cells, which is one of the reason that chemo patients often lose their hair.
Radiation therapy is performed using a very powerful x-ray machine, which beans energy into the abdomen, killing the cancer cells in the pancreas. Like chemotherapy, radiation can also kill other cells and is accompanied by serious side effects. However, these side effects normally only last until a few weeks after the treatment has been completed.