Pancreatic Cancer Treatment

Explore advanced pancreatic cancer treatment options available in China.

Why going to China for cancer treatment?

Treatment for pancreatic cancer depends on the stage of the cancer and the location. Your health care team also considers your overall health and your preferences. For most people, the first goal of pancreatic cancer treatment is to get rid of the cancer, when possible. When that isn’t possible, the focus may be on improving quality of life and keeping the cancer from growing or causing more harm.

Pancreatic cancer treatments may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of these. When the cancer is advanced, these treatments aren’t likely to help. So treatment focuses on relieving symptoms to keep you as comfortable as possible for as long as possible.

Surgery can cure pancreatic cancer, but it’s not an option for everyone. It might be used to treat cancer that hasn’t spread to other organs. Surgery might not be possible if the cancer grows large or extends into nearby blood vessels. In these situations, treatment might start with other options, such as chemotherapy. Sometimes surgery might be done after these other treatments.

Operations used to treat pancreatic cancer include:

  • Surgery for cancers in the pancreatic head. The Whipple procedure, also called pancreaticoduodenectomy, is an operation to remove the head of the pancreas. It also involves removing the first part of the small intestine and the bile duct. Sometimes the surgeon removes part of the stomach and nearby lymph nodes. The remaining organs are rejoined to allow food to move through the digestive system.

  • Surgery for cancers in the body and tail of the pancreas. Surgery to remove the body and tail of the pancreas is called distal pancreatectomy. With this procedure, the surgeon also might need to remove the spleen.
  • Surgery to remove the whole pancreas. This is called total pancreatectomy. After surgery, you’ll take medicine to replace the hormones and enzymes made by the pancreas for the rest of your life.
  • Surgery for cancers that affect nearby blood vessels. When a cancer in the pancreas grows to involve nearby blood vessels, a more-complex procedure might be needed. The procedure might need to involve taking out and rebuilding parts of the blood vessels. Few medical centers in the United States have surgeons trained to do these blood vessel operations safely.

Each of these operations carries the risk of bleeding and infection. After surgery some people have nausea and vomiting if the stomach has trouble emptying, called delayed gastric emptying. Expect a long recovery after any of these procedures. You’ll spend several days in the hospital and then recover for several weeks at home.

Research shows that pancreatic cancer surgery tends to cause fewer complications when done by highly experienced surgeons at centers that do many of these operations. Ask about your surgeon’s and hospital’s experience with pancreatic cancer surgery. If you have any doubts, get a second opinion.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses strong medicines to kill cancer cells. Treatment might involve one chemotherapy medicine or a mix of them. Most chemotherapy medicines are given through a vein, but some are taken in pill form.

Chemotherapy might be the first treatment used when the first treatment can’t be surgery. Chemotherapy also might be given at the same time as radiation therapy. Sometimes this combination of treatments shrinks the cancer enough to make surgery possible. This approach to treatment is offered at specialized medical centers that have experience caring for many people with pancreatic cancer.

Chemotherapy is often used after surgery to kill any cancer cells that might remain.

When the cancer is advanced and spreads to other parts of the body, chemotherapy can help control it. Chemotherapy might help relieve symptoms, such as pain.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy uses powerful energy beams to kill cancer cells. The energy can come from X-rays, protons or other sources. During radiation therapy, you lie on a table while a machine moves around you. The machine directs radiation to precise points on your body.

Radiation can be used either before or after surgery. It’s often done after chemotherapy. Radiation also can be combined with chemotherapy.

When surgery isn’t an option, radiation therapy and chemotherapy might be the first treatment. This combination of treatments might shrink the cancer and make surgery possible.

When the cancer spreads to other parts of the body, radiation therapy can help relieve symptoms, such as pain.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is a treatment with medicine that helps the body’s immune system kill cancer cells. The immune system fights off diseases by attacking germs and other cells that shouldn’t be in the body. Cancer cells survive by hiding from the immune system. Immunotherapy helps the immune system cells find and kill the cancer cells. Immunotherapy might be an option if your pancreatic cancer has specific DNA changes that would make the cancer likely to respond to these treatments.

Clinical trials

Clinical trials are studies of new treatments. These studies provide a chance to try the latest treatments. The risk of side effects might not be known. Ask your health care professional if you might be able to be in a clinical trial.

Palliative care

Palliative care is a special type of health care that helps people with serious illness feel better. If you have cancer, palliative care can help relieve pain and other symptoms. A team of health care professionals does palliative care. The team can include doctors, nurses and other specially trained professionals. The team’s goal is to improve quality of life for you and your family.

Palliative care specialists work with you, your family and your care team to help you feel better. They provide an extra layer of support while you have cancer treatment. You can have palliative care at the same time as strong cancer treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

When palliative care is used with all the other appropriate treatments, people with cancer may feel better and live longer.

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