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Pancreatic Cancer Treatment, Side Effects and Support

If you are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the team at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center will be with you every step of the way. We personalize your care so you get the most effective treatment options for you, including the latest advances in surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy. Your care plan also includes treatment to manage your emotional and physical symptoms and side effects - important parts of integrative pancreatic cancer care.

How Is Pancreatic Cancer Treated?

The treatment recommendation will depend on the stage or extent of the disease. When localized on imaging studies (CT or MRI scan), surgical treatment is the mainstay of treatment to offer a possibility for cure. The type of surgery that may be recommended depends on the tumor location. Cancers in the region of the head of the gland require surgery called the “Whipple Operation.” Those tumors in the body or tail require removal of the left side of the pancreas. Banner MD Anderson doctors often recommend patients have chemotherapy before pancreatic cancer surgery to improve survival and increase margin clearance. Radiation therapy is sometimes recommended as well in certain cases. In cases in which the cancer has already spread, newer regimens of chemotherapy serve as the mainstay treatment recommendations.

Your doctor will talk to you about your best treatment options and work with you to customize a treatment plan to meet your specific needs. What will work best for you depends on the type and stage of the cancer, as well as your overall health. Our team of pancreatic cancer experts is always exploring new, alternative and experimental treatment options. Talk to your doctor about the latest advances and possible clinical trials.

If you have questions about your treatment options or need more information, speak with your doctor. We want to be sure you have all the information you need to feel comfortable with your treatment decisions.

Treatments for Pancreatic Cancer

  • Surgery: Surgery can be used to treat pancreatic cancer in some cases, with a possibility for potential cure. The type of surgery that may be recommended depends on the tumor location. Cancers in the region of the head of the gland require surgery called the “Whipple Operation”. Those tumors in the body or tail require removal of the left side of the pancreas (distal pancreatectomy).
  • Chemotherapy: At Banner MD Anderson, we offer the most advanced chemotherapy options for pancreatic cancer. Chemotherapy drugs are injected into a vein or taken orally, reaching all parts of the body through your bloodstream. Chemotherapy can be used before or after surgery to shrink a tumor or further eliminate cancer cells, or in cases when the cancer has spread beyond the pancreas
    • Possible side effects: Nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, hair loss, mouth sores, diarrhea, constipation, infection, bleeding, bruising, fatigue, shortness of breath
  • Radiation therapy: This therapy is used in some patients with pancreas cancer, either to shrink the tumor is some cases to improve operability, or when the tumor is inoperable but causing pain or other symptoms.
    • Possible side effects: Skin changes, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, loss of appetite
  • Targeted therapy: We offer targeted therapies for some types of pancreatic cancer. These innovative drugs interfere with proteins, receptors or blood vessels that the tumor needs, stopping its growth.
    • Possible side effects: Rash, diarrhea, loss of appetite, fatigue
  • Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy medicines stimulate a patient’s immune system to fight cancer cells more effectively.
    • Possible side effects: Fatigue, cough, nausea, itching, skin rash, decreased appetite, constipation, joint pain, diarrhea

Pain in the stomach and back can be major problems for people with pancreatic cancer. Your doctor may prescribe pain medications and/or recommend a procedure to inject alcohol into nerves near the pancreas.

Pancreatic Cancer Support

Our Integrative Oncology Program provides patients supportive care for all aspects of their medical, physical and emotional health care. Our caring team of highly trained nurses, dietitians, counselors and other health care professionals is here to help you manage symptoms and side effects of treatment. We’re with you each step of the way throughout your diagnosis, treatment and recovery.

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