Pancreatic Cancer Treatment

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Oncologist discusses pancreatic cancer treatment options with patient

Various types of treatment can be used for pancreatic cancer. Which may work best for you will depend on a number of factors. These include the size, location, and stage of your cancer. Other factors also include your age, overall health, and what side effects you’ll find acceptable.

You may have questions and concerns about your treatment options. You may also want to know how you’ll feel and function after treatment, and if you’ll have to change your normal activities. Your oncologist, or cancer specialist, is the best person to answer your questions. They can tell you what your treatment choices are, how well they’re expected to work, and what the risks and side effects are. Your healthcare provider may advise a specific treatment. Or you may be offered more than one, and asked to decide which one you’d like to use. It can be hard to make this decision. It's important to take the time you need to make the best decision.

Understanding the goals of treatment for pancreatic cancer

For some pancreatic cancers, the goal of treatment is to cure the cancer. If cure isn’t possible, treatment may be used to shrink the cancer or keep it under control for as long as possible. Treatment can also improve your quality of life by helping to control the symptoms of the disease. The goals of treatment can be one or more of these things:

  • Remove or destroy the cancer in your pancreas
  • Remove or destroy tumors in other parts of your body
  • Stop or slow the growth or spread of pancreatic cancer cells
  • Prevent or delay the cancer from coming back
  • Ease symptoms caused by the cancer. These can include pain or pressure on your organs.

Pancreatic cancer treatment options

There are several types of treatment for pancreatic cancer depending on how much it has spread (the stage), and many people undergo a combination of treatments. As with many cancers, surgery, radiation and chemotherapy are among them.

  • Surgery may be an option for pancreatic cancer if the cancer hasn’t spread. Unfortunately, pancreatic cancer has usually spread too far to be removed completely. If the cancer can’t be removed, your doctor might recommend surgery to ease symptoms (called palliative surgery).

    Legacy offers conventional and laparoscopic options for pancreatic surgery. Surgery is used to remove part or all of the pancreas. Among the surgeries we offer:
    • Distal pancreatectomy 
    • Total pancreatectomy
    • Whipple (also called pancreaticoduodenectomy)

The Whipple procedure removes the head of the pancreas, the duodenum, a portion of the stomach and other nearby tissue. Pancreatectomy is surgery to remove all or part of the pancreas.

  • Radiation uses X-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. In some cases, radiation reduces the size of the tumor to make it easier to remove surgically. It may be used when surgery or other treatments aren't good options.
    Legacy has the latest radiation technology, reducing treatment time and better protecting your healthy organs from high-dose radiation
  • Chemotherapy uses drugs that kill cancer cells throughout the body. For pancreatic cancer, chemotherapy may be used before or after surgery and often with radiation. Or chemotherapy may be the main treatment for people who can't have surgery. Your chemotherapy plan will be tailored to fit your individual needs.
  • Immunotherapy uses the body’s own immune system to treat cancer (also called biologic therapy).

Talk to your doctor about these and other treatments for pancreatic cancer. There may also be a clinical trial (research study) for which you are eligible. Researchers are discovering new therapies for treating cancer all the time, giving doctors new resources for your care. 

Experts in treating pancreatic cancer

Legacy Cancer Institute, located in Portland, OR, ranks among the nation’s best cancer programs. Our team features some of the region’s most recognized specialists who work together to diagnose and develop a personalized treatment plan for you. Find the right provider and treatment close to home.

Legacy Cancer Institute is accredited as an integrated network cancer program by the American College of surgeons Commission on Cancer (CoC). Learn more about our quality cancer care.

Working together for you

Our cancer experts work together with a common goal: delivering the right care for you.

A range of specialists collaborate regularly in meetings called tumor boards to discuss the best plan for your care. Your treatment plan is made just for you, depending on your general health, your age, your particular cancer and its growth.

Legacy Health collaborates with the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute to advance cancer care in our region. By working together, you benefit from the strength of both leaders in cancer care. As an integrated community cancer program for adults, we make sure that you have access to the latest treatments, technology and research available.

What happens next

Many cancer treatments can cause challenging side effects. Your cancer team is dedicated to helping you manage these symptoms in the best ways possible. Comfort care can treat symptoms to help improve your quality of life; this is also called palliative care.

Because the pancreas has a role in digesting food, those who undergo surgery to remove the pancreas may need medicines to help the body digest food and support nutrition.

To see how well your treatment is working, some of the tests used to diagnose and stage your cancer may be repeated. Your doctor uses these tests to decide whether to stop, change or continue treatment based on the results. These tests can also determine if cancer has returned. Whenever possible, we work to stop the growth of cancer and reduce the chance of cancer coming back.  


More support

You are not alone. Legacy offers support throughout your cancer journey, as well as care for your emotional, social and spiritual needs.