How is cancer of the pancreas treated?

Treatment for pancreatic cancer depends on a number of factors. Among these are the type, size, and extent of the tumor as well as the patient’s age and general health. A treatment plan is tailored to fit each patient’s needs.

Treatment Methods

Cancer of the pancreas is curable only when it is found in its earliest stages, before it has spread. Otherwise, it is very difficult to cure. However, it can be treated, symptoms can be relieved, and the quality of the patient’s life can be improved.

Pancreatic cancer is treated with surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy. Researchers are also studying biological therapy to see whether it can be helpful in treating this disease. Sometimes several methods are used, and the patient is referred to doctors who specialize in different kinds of cancer treatment.

Surgery may be done to remove all or part of the pancreas. Sometimes it is also necessary to remove a portion of the stomach, the duodenum, and other nearby tissues. This operation is called a Whipple procedure. In cases where the cancer in the pancreas cannot be removed, the surgeon may be able to create a bypass around the common bile duct or the duodenum if either is blocked.

Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) uses high-powered rays to damage cancer cells and stop them from growing. Radiation is usually given 5 days a week for 5 to 6 weeks. This schedule helps to protect normal tissue by spreading out the total dose of radiation. The patient doesn’t need to stay in the hospital for radiation therapy.

Radiation is also being studied as a way to kill cancer cells that remain in the area after surgery. In addition, radiation therapy can help relieve pain or digestive problems when the common bile duct or duodenum is blocked.

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. The doctor may use just one drug or a combination. Chemotherapy may be given by mouth or by injection into a muscle or vein. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body. Chemotherapy is usually given in cycles; a treatment period followed by a recovery period, then another treatment period, and so on.

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