Treatment plans for pancreatic cancer are unique to each patient. There’s no one method to treat the disease, because pancreatic cancer presents differently in each patient. For an overview of pancreatic cancer treatments, download our Pancreatic Cancer Patient Guide.
Making treatment decisions
Make sure you discuss all the options available with your medical team. This allows you to make an informed decision about your treatment pathway. Questions to ask your doctor should include:
- What is the stage and grade of my cancer?
- How fast is the cancer growing?
- How quickly can treatment start?
- Is surgery an option to remove the cancer?
- What is the aim of the treatment?
- Will treatment cure or control my cancer?
- Am I healthy enough to undergo the treatment?
- What are the potential side effects of the recommended treatment?
- Will the treatment improve my quality of life?
Surgery options for early stages of pancreatic cancer
Tumours are generally operable in the early stages. Depending on your diagnosis, the surgical procedures available include:
- Whipple procedure - involves removing the head of the pancreas, the first part of the small intestine, gall bladder, part of the bile duct and sometimes, part of the stomach
- Distal pancreatectomy – removes tumours in the tail and body of the pancreas
- Total pancreatectomy – removes all your pancreas
Watch: Surgery for pancreatic cancer | Patient education video
Surgery options for advanced pancreatic cancer
Once pancreatic cancer has spread to other parts of the body, it becomes harder to operate. In this case, surgery is usually recommended to help relieve symptoms associated with your disease. Surgical options for advanced pancreatic cancer include:
- Stenting – the insertion of a small tube into your bile duct or bowel to allow food to pass through
- Bypass surgery - re-directs the flow of bile from the common bile duct to the small intestine, bypassing the pancreas
- Gastroenterostomy - connects your stomach to the second part of your small intestine.
- Venting gastrostomy - connects the stomach to an artificial opening on the abdomen to allow the insertion of a thin tube
ChemotherapyChemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells in your body. Chemotherapy can be a treatment on its own or used in conjunction with other treatments, such as surgery.
There are various ways to use chemotherapy in your treatment. Your doctor may recommend chemotherapy to:
- shrink a tumour before surgery for a better chance of removal (called neo-adjuvant chemotherapy)
- destroy any remaining cancer cells after surgery to help prevent the cancer from returning (called adjuvant chemotherapy)
- when surgery is not an option, it can slow down the cancer growth
Chemotherapy is generally administered through a drip into the veins. Certain chemotherapy medicines also come in tablet form.
Watch: Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for pancreatic cancer | Patient education video
Radiation therapy uses radiation to safely treat and manage cancer. Radiation therapy treats cancer by damaging cancer cells while limiting the impact to healthy cells. Radiation therapy won't cure the cancer. But it can help to control the cancer and slow down its growth.
There are various ways to use radiation therapy in your treatment. Your specialist may recommend:
- shrinking the tumour before surgery to make it easier to remove
- destroying the remaining cancer cells after surgery to help prevent the cancer from returning
- to help relieve tumour-related symptoms
Patient pathway at the Jreissati Pancreatic Centre at Epworth
The patient pathway at the Jreissati Pancreatic Centre at Epworth
The Jreissati Pancreatic Centre at Epworth is a centre of excellence in research, clinical care and patient experience for people with pancreatic cancer.
You can access pancreatic cancer treatment at your choice of Epworth location across Melbourne and Geelong, Australia.
Why choose a specialist centre?
We have a centralised, multidisciplinary team ready to treat you once you’ve been referred to us by a GP or specialist. Overseas studies have shown that centralised care helps to improve patient outcomes2. Having patients come through one main centre increases case volume, which in turn increases clinical expertise. This expertise leads to breakthroughs that will improve patient procedures and treatment in the future. Unlike other specialist centres, we will fast track an appointment with one of our specialists within 72 hours.
So, what is a ‘multidisciplinary team’? In short, it's a group of specialised health professionals who meet regularly as a group to determine the best treatment care plan for patients based on their needs. Our team has some of the most experienced pancreatic specialists in Australia, led by Centre Director and gastroenterologist, Associate Professor Andrew Metz.
Who will care for me?
As pancreatic cancer is such a complex disease, you will need a range of clinical experts during your treatment and care. Through the Jreissati Pancreatic Centre at Epworth, you will be connected with all of the necessary clinicians at the one convenient Epworth location. You won't have to travel to various sites to speak to different specialists. Or try to get them to communicate with each other. The specialists you need will be a part of your team and will be in regular contact with you and each other about your care.
The multidisciplinary team at Epworth includes the following healthcare professionals:
|Pancreatic nurse coordinator||Pancreatic or hepato-Pancreatobiliary surgeon|
|Medical imaging specialists||Pain team|
|Palliative care team||Pastoral care team|
|Clinical research coordinator|
2OO Faluyi, JL Connor, M Chatterjee, C Ikin, H Wong and DH Palmer, ‘Advanced pancreatic adenocarcinoma outcomes with transition from devolved to centralised care in a regional Cancer Centre’, British Journal of Cancer, 2017, 116:424-431.