Treatment overview

Surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy may all be used to treat pancreatic cancer. Treatments are also used to control symptoms and make you feel more comfortable. This is known as supportive care.

The most effective treatment for early-stage (resectable) pancreatic cancer is surgery to remove part, or all, of the pancreas. Chemotherapy may be given before surgery to shrink the tumour or to reduce the risk of the cancer cells spreading (neoadjuvant treatment). Chemotherapy may also be used after surgery to reduce the chances of the cancer coming back (adjuvant chemotherapy).

For locally advanced (unresectable) pancreatic cancer, chemotherapy may be used to control the cancer for some time and to relieve symptoms. Sometimes, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are given together (chemoradiation). Rarely, it’s possible to operate to try to remove locally-advanced (borderline resectable) cancers.

If the cancer is advanced (metastatic), you may be offered treatments to control it.

Types of treatment

Surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy may all be used to treat pancreatic cancer. An important part of the care of people with pancreatic cancer is using treatments to control symptoms and make you feel more comfortable. This is known as supportive care. Research is going on to find more effective treatments for pancreatic cancer and you may be invited to take part in a clinical trial of a new drug or treatment.


Treatment by stage of cancer

Early-stage (resectable)

The most effective treatment for early-stage pancreatic cancer is surgery to remove part, or all, of the pancreas. This may cure the cancer for some people but it is a major operation. It is only suitable for people who are fit enough to have the surgery and who have cancers that are small and haven’t spread.

Chemotherapy may be given before surgery to shrink the tumour or to reduce the risk of the cancer cells spreading. This is called neoadjuvant treatment and may be given as part of a clinical trial.

Chemotherapy may also be used after surgery to reduce the chances of the cancer coming back. This is called adjuvant chemotherapy.

Locally-advanced (unresectable)

Chemotherapy may be used to control the cancer for some time and to relieve symptoms.

Sometimes, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are given together. This is called chemoradiation.

If the cancer is blocking the bile duct or the bowel, surgery or stents may be used to relieve symptoms.

Locally-advanced (borderline resectable)

Very occasionally, it’s possible to operate to try to remove locally-advanced cancers. Chemotherapy (with or without radiotherapy) may be given first to shrink the tumour. However, this is rare.

Metastatic or advanced cancer

If the cancer is advanced, you may be offered treatment to control it. The main aim of this treatment is to reduce symptoms so that you feel as well as possible. This is called supportive care. Chemotherapy may be given to shrink the cancer and to relieve symptoms. Chemotherapy may also help some people to live for longer. Stents may be used to relieve jaundice or other symptoms caused by a blocked bile duct or bowel. Radiotherapy, painkillers and nerve blocks may be used on their own or in a combination to control any pain.

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