Treatment for advanced pancreatic cancer
Pancreatic cancer usually has no symptoms in its early stages, so many people are diagnosed when the cancer is advanced. If the cancer is in nearby organs or blood vessels (locally advanced), or has spread (metastasised) to other parts of the body, surgery to remove the cancer may not be possible. Instead treatments will focus on relieving symptoms without trying to cure the disease. This is called palliative treatment.
Learn more about:
- An overview
- Managing pain in pancreatic cancer
- Surgery to relieve symptoms
- Radiation therapy
- Palliative treatment
Some people think that palliative treatment is only for people at the end of life. However, it can help at any stage of a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. It does not mean giving up hope – rather, it is about managing symptoms as they occur, and living as fully and comfortably as possible.
Palliative treatments may include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, either on their own or in combination. These treatments can be used to relieve some common symptoms of advanced pancreatic cancer, such as:
- jaundice caused by narrowing of the common bile duct
- ongoing vomiting and weight loss caused by a blockage in the stomach or small bowel
- pain in the abdomen and middle back.
Many people with advanced pancreatic cancer have digestive problems – for example, a blockage in the pancreatic duct can stop the flow of the digestive enzymes required to break down food. This can be treated with pancreatic enzyme supplements.
Find out more about managing dietary issues that may be caused by pancreatic cancer and its treatment.
If pain becomes an issue, you may need a combination of treatments to achieve good pain control.
Ways to relieve pain include:
Tell your treatment team if you have pain, as it is easier to control if treated early. They can also refer you to a pain specialist if needed.
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Dr Lorraine Chantrill, Head of Department, Medical Oncology, Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, NSW; Marion Bamblett, Nurse Unit Manager, Cancer Centre, Fiona Stanley Hospital, WA; Prof Katherine Clark, Clinical Director of Palliative Care, Northern Sydney Local Health District Cancer and Palliative Care Network, and Conjoint Professor, Northern Clinical School, The University of Sydney, NSW; Lynda Dunstone, Consumer; Kate Graham, Accredited Practising Dietitian – Upper GI Dietitian, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Gina Hesselberg, Radiation Oncologist, St George Hospital Cancer Centre, NSW; Dr Marni Nenke, Endocrinologist and Mary Overton Early Career Research Fellow, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; A/Prof Nicholas O’Rourke, Head of Hepatobiliary Surgery, Royal Brisbane Hospital and The University of Queensland, QLD; Rose Rocca, Senior Clinical Dietitian – Upper GI, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Gail Smith, Consumer. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
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