What You Need to Know to Fight Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive cancer often diagnosed in advanced stages and difficult to treat. Doctors continue to strive for better patient outcomes.
If you have cancer of the pancreas, you already know you’re in for the fight of your life. It’s relatively well known that few people conquer this aggressive type of cancer long-term, and you may wonder what’s next.
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It’s helpful to know what’s around the corner with this diagnosis, says R. Matthew Walsh, MD, General Surgery Chair at Cleveland Clinic. He says doctors continue to search for the best advances to give them the upper hand in the difficult battle.
You’ve likely already had a physical exam and blood test to identify pancreatic cancer. More tests will help determine severity:
After your diagnosis, your doctor will likely discuss treatment and recovery options. The next steps will depend on answers to these questions:
Pancreatic cancer can only truly be controlled if it’s identified before it spreads and when surgery is possible. Otherwise, your doctor will likely discuss options to maximize your quality of life by controlling symptoms and complications.
Pancreatic cancer surgery is complicated, Dr. Walsh says. Several blood vessels that feed the stomach, small intestines, liver and spleen wrap the pancreas. CT scans and MRI images help surgeons decide whether they can successfully remove a tumor.
“We’re doing better at telling whether tumors can be taken out,” he says. “This allows us to get patients through surgeries with fewer complications.”
Doctors sometimes perform surgery laparoscopically. As with testing, it involves small incisions instead of a large one. Patients generally recover more quickly from this less invasive type of surgery.
Doctors and researchers continue to investigate other treatments for pancreatic cancer, including radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Studies and clinical trials are underway on:
Delivered by your oncology team, palliative care lessens the impact of pain and complications from the cancer. Patients who receive palliative care tend to spend less time in intensive care and in the hospital overall, Dr. Walsh says.
In addition to medications that control nausea and vomiting, here are two palliative treatment options:
As with any cancer, your individual diagnosis and prognosis drive your treatment approach and regimen. Your doctor will help you and your family determine which combination of testing and treatment is best for you.