Treatment to remove the cancer
This section gives an overview of treatments used for many stage 1–2 (early) pancreatic cancers and some stage 3 pancreatic cancers. Read more about the stages of pancreatic cancer.
The treatment options described here will be suitable for only about 15–20% of people with pancreatic cancer, as most people are diagnosed at a later stage.
Surgery to remove the cancer, in combination with chemotherapy and possibly radiation therapy, is generally the most effective treatment for early pancreatic cancer. It is important that the surgery is done by a surgeon who is part of a multidisciplinary team in a specialist pancreatic cancer treatment centre.
Learn more about:
- Treatments before or after surgery
- Where should you have treatment?
- What to expect after surgery
- What if the cancer returns?
Your surgeon may recommend other treatments before surgery to shrink the tumour, or after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
Treatments given before surgery are known as neoadjuvant therapies, while treatments given after surgery are called adjuvant therapies. They both may include:
- chemotherapy – the use of drugs to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells
- chemoradiation – chemotherapy combined with radiation therapy.
Treatment for pancreatic cancer is highly specialised. This is especially the case with surgery for early pancreatic cancer, such as the Whipple procedure.
There is strong evidence that outcomes are better when people have their treatment in a specialist centre that sees a lot of people with pancreatic cancer. These high-volume centres have multidisciplinary teams of health professionals experienced in treating pancreatic cancer.
Visiting one of these pancreatic cancer centres gives you access to a wide range of treatment options, including clinical trials, but it may mean you need to travel away from home to have the treatment.
Sometimes the multidisciplinary team from a specialist centre will be able to advise your local specialist. You may find that you can visit the specialist centre to confirm the diagnosis and work out a treatment plan and then have much of your treatment closer to your home.
To find a treatment centre that specialises in pancreatic cancer, talk to your GP.
If you live in a rural or regional area and have to travel a long way for appointments or treatment, you may be able to get financial assistance towards the cost of accommodation or travel. To check whether you are eligible or to apply for this assistance, speak to your GP or the hospital social worker, or call Cancer Council 13 11 20.
I asked the surgeon what caused it, and he said, ‘We don’t know, Phil’. He got me to focus on what had to be done and to just get on with it. It’s easy to say now that you need to get on the front foot and work with your treatment team, but the diagnosis is a terrific blow.Phil
Podcast: Making Treatment Decisions
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Dr Benjamin Loveday, Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary (HPB) Surgeon, Royal Melbourne Hospital and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Katherine Allsopp, Palliative Medicine Physician, Crown Princess Mary Cancer Centre, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Hollie Bevans, Senior Dietitian, Radiotherapy and Oncology, Western Health, VIC; Dr Lorraine Chantrill, Head of Department Medical Oncology, Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, NSW; Amanda Maxwell, Consumer; Prof Michael Michael, Medical Oncologist, Lower and Upper GI Oncology Service, Co-Chair Neuroendocrine Unit, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and University of Melbourne, VIC; Dr Andrew Oar, Radiation Oncologist, Icon Cancer Centre, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Meg Rogers, Nurse Consultant Upper GI/NET Service, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Ady Sipthorpe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA.
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