Treatment options for pancreatic cancer include surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Pancreatic cancer treatment aims to cure the disease, but if this is not possible, the focus shifts to preventing the tumour from growing or spreading, increasing life expectancy and maintaining quality of life.
Treatment of pancreatic cancer depends on the extent of the disease. Based on the location and extent of spread, pancreatic cancer can be divided into three categories:
Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy for cancer treatment uses certain drugs that are capable of killing cancer cells. During chemotherapy, you may be given two or more drugs in combination through a vein (intravenous). Chemotherapy is usually given for locally advanced pancreatic cancers that are not amenable to surgical resection or metastatic cancers, however, all centres for treatment of cancer do not follow this recommendation and use a number of factors, such as size of the disease and symptoms to decide the best mode of treatment. Chemotherapy may be given alone or in combination with radiotherapy.
Chemotherapy agents that are used most commonly for treatment of pancreatic cancer include gemcitabine, capcetabine and fluorouracil. Besides these, many other drugs, such as bevacizumab, vatalanib, cetuximab and erlotinib are being evaluated for the treatment of pancreatic cancer.
After the start of treatment, regular imaging studies are done to evaluate whether the tumour is getting smaller or bigger. If the tumour continues to grow despite chemotherapy, the doctor will recommend change of chemotherapy medication or some other alternative plan.
Pancreatic Cancer Surgery: Treatment option for pancreatic cancer is decided based on whether complete surgical removal of the cancer is possible or not. Complete surgical removal of the cancer can cure pancreatic cancer. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy do not cure the cancer because they are palliative treatment. They can instead help to improve symptoms, slow the growth or spread of tumour, increase life expectancy and maintain quality of life, however, most cases at the time of diagnosis have advanced carcinoma, which cannot be removed surgically. Less than 20% of people have cancer at a stage that can be surgically removed.
Localized cancer, which can be removed completely by surgery are considered resectable. If the cancer cannot be removed completely or if a surgery is considered to be a high risk treatment option, the cancer is considered unresectable.
Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy or radiotherapy uses high-powered energy beams to kill or destroy cancer cells and shrink tumours. Radiation therapy is directed at the affected area and the cancer cells are treated or destroyed. In pancreatic cancer, radiation therapy is usually given along with chemotherapy.