Understanding your options
"Life is about constantly negotiating our ups and downs and coming to terms with the situations we are given and celebrating our survival despite all odds."
Carrie Ng Grace
Treating pancreatic cancer can be challenging. Your doctors will consider several different factors when choosing the best treatment for you. These include the grade and stage of the cancer, the location and extent of the disease. Other facts include:
• Your age, overall health, and medical history
For most patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the main goal of treatment is to control symptoms. All treatments have benefits and risks. You and your doctor should carefully balance the potential benefits of any cancer treatment with its potential risks.
Treatment options may include:
Surgery - Surgery for pancreatic cancer may be curative or palliative. Potentially curative surgery is used when imaging studies tell the surgeon that it is possible to remove all the cancer. Research has shown that the risk of major complications and mortality are significantly reduced if the Whipple procedure or other pancreatic surgery is performed at an institution that performs a high volume of these procedures - click here to view a list of Canadian Cancer Specialty Centres and High Volume Centres
Palliative surgery may be done if imaging studies show that the tumor is too widespread to be completely removed. Palliative surgery can relieve symptoms like jaundice and prevent certain complications.
Radiation therapy - Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.
Chemotherapy - Chemotherapy is the use of cytotoxic (anti-cancer) medicines to target and destroy cancer cells. It is an important treatment option for many types of cancer and clinical trials.
You may have chemotherapy on its own or alongside other treatments such as radiotherapy or surgery. Usually you will be given chemotherapy by injection into a vein (intravenously). You may also be able to have certain types of chemotherapy by mouth (tablets).
There are a number of drugs currently being used to treat pancreatic cancer: The international standard for first-line treatment of advanced pancreatic cancer is gemcitabine (Gemzar®). Chemotherapy drugs currently used to treat pancreatic cancer.
Targeted therapies - Targeted therapies are designed to treat only the cancer cells and minimize damage to normal, healthy cells. Cancer treatments that “target” cancer cells often have fewer side effects and are more focused than traditional chemotherapy drugs and radiation treatments. This is because chemotherapy and radiation therapy cannot tell the difference between cancer cells and healthy cells, so they often harm healthy cells and this can cause side effects.
Erlotinib (Tarceva) is one of the newer targeted therapies that can be helpful in selected patients and is approved in many countries for the treatment of pancreatic cancer. Other drugs used include 5-fluoro-uracil (5FU), irinotecan and oxaliplatin.
In addition to treatments offered by an oncologist, most pancreatic cancer patients are seen by a multi-disciplinary healthcare team that will address a wide range of symptoms and issues relating to a cancer diagnosis. This team consists of a dietician, social worker, psychologist, pharmacist and community support or home care.
A diagnosis of pancreatic cancer also affects the family and loved ones as they adapt to new roles and responsibilities. It is important to know that there is help and support available ... no one needs to cope alone.
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