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Doctor discussing treatment options with patient who has pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer treatments

Our doctors and clinicians will meet with you to discuss your diagnosis, offering a variety of treatment options and technologies to target your pancreatic tumors. Depending on your needs, your pancreatic cancer treatment plan may involve minimally invasive gastroenterology techniques, chemotherapy, interventional radiology and/or other innovative approaches.

Common treatments include:

Chemotherapy

If chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer is part of your treatment plan, your medical oncologist will use a combination of chemotherapy medications customized to your individual needs. Chemotherapy may be used alone, or in combination with other pancreatic cancer treatments like radiation therapy or surgery.

For pancreatic cancer, chemotherapy is often given concurrently with radiation therapy, called chemoradiation.

For pancreatic cancer patients with liver metastasis, our doctors sometimes use intra-arterial chemotherapy (IAC). With IAC, we administer chemotherapy directly into tumors in the liver. This allows the chemotherapy drugs to be concentrated within the tumor, destroying cancer cells while reducing exposure to healthy tissues.

Gastroenterology

Some gastrointestinal procedures for pancreatic cancer include:

Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography allows us to view the bile ducts in the pancreas in order to remove samples for biopsy, relieve an obstruction of the bile duct, or place a stent into a narrowed duct to keep it open

Endoscopic ultrasound allows us to view high-quality images of the pancreas

Fiducial markers places fiducial markers inside a pancreatic tumor prior to radiation therapy to allow for more precise targeting of tumors and reduced harm to healthy tissue

Celiac plexus neurolysis blocks the nerves that supply the pancreas to provide pain relief

Our gastroenterology team also places stents and drain pancreatic pseudocysts, when needed.

Interventional radiology

With interventional radiology, our doctors may visualize tumors in the pancreas and perform real-time image-guided interventional procedures. We may deliver treatment directly to pancreatic tumors, take biopsies, provide palliative treatment and monitor your response to treatment.

In cases when pancreatic cancer spreads to the liver, one or more of the following procedures may be used:

SIR-Spheres (Y90): This treatment uses tiny beads called microspheres to deliver radiation directly to tumors in the liver. Measuring one-third the diameter of a human hair, the tiny microspheres are embedded with a radioactive element (Y90) to help kill cancer cells. The radiation therapy is delivered to a tumor through a catheter a physician guides into the hepatic artery, the liver’s main blood vessel. Once in place, the microspheres are inserted into the catheter, where they can enter the smaller blood vessels supplying the liver tumor and block the flow of blood. Then, the microspheres emit radiation to destroy cancer cells in the tumor, while sparing healthy liver tissue.

Chemoembolization: With this treatment, chemotherapy drugs are delivered directly to a liver tumor. This delivery method reduces side effects, like nausea and vomiting, and enhances the cancer-killing properties of the drugs. During the procedure, chemotherapy is injected through a catheter directly into a liver tumor using image guidance. The chemotherapy drugs are mixed with microspheres, which block the flow of blood to the tumor. Without a blood supply, the tumor no longer has the oxygen and nutrients it needs to grow. Chemoembolization allows high doses of chemotherapy drugs to be targeted directly to the cancerous portion of the liver for a longer period of time, without exposing the entire body to the effect of the drugs.

Radiation therapy

With sophisticated radiation therapy delivery systems and image-guidance technologies, our radiation oncologists are better able to target difficult-to-reach tumors in the pancreas. Also, our radiation oncologists may direct higher radiation doses at pancreatic cancer cells, while reducing exposure to normal, healthy pancreatic tissue.

In treating pancreatic cancer, radiation therapy is often given concurrently with chemotherapy—an approach called chemoradiation.

Surgery

We perform a range of difficult and complex surgical procedures for pancreatic cancer, in cases where the tumor can be safely and completely removed by surgery. The nature and extent of surgery for resectable pancreatic tumors depends on the location and size of the tumor.

Some surgical procedures we offer include:

  • Laparoscopic resection
  • Whipple procedure (pancreatoduodenectomy)
  • Distal (partial) pancreatectomies
  • Total pancreatectomy
  • da Vinci® Surgical System  
  • Palliative procedures

Your care team may also recommend other treatments for pancreatic cancer in addition to, or in place of, surgery. For instance, in an effort to try to make a previously inoperable pancreas potentially resectable, your care team may recommend chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy prior to considering surgery for pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer clinical trials

Clinical trials are an important testing ground for measuring the effectiveness and safety of new cancer drugs and treatments before they are granted government approval. As part of our commitment to providing cutting-edge treatments, our doctors may recommend that you enroll in a clinical trial that may offer you access to pancreatic cancer treatment options that would otherwise be unavailable to you.

In many cases, clinical trials are intended for patients with advanced cancer who may have run out of other treatment options. However, patients may qualify for a clinical trial at any stage of their disease and/or treatment if they meet strict and specific criteria. Talk to your doctor about whether a clinical trial is an option for you and ask about the risks and requirements involved.

Search clinical trials for pancreatic cancer

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