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Treatment decisions

Find out how your doctor decides which treatment you need, and the types of treatment you might have by stage.

Deciding which treatment you need

A team of doctors and other professionals discuss the best treatment and care for you. They are called a multidisciplinary team (MDT).

The treatment you have depends on:

  • where your cancer is
  • how far it has grown or spread (the stage)
  • the type of cancer
  • how abnormal the cells look under a microscope (the grade)
  • your general health and level of fitness

Your doctor will discuss your treatment, its benefits and the possible side effects with you.

Treatment overview

The main treatment is surgery to remove the cancer if possible. You might also have chemotherapy. 

Radiotherapy may be used but this is not common.

If the cancer has spread, chemotherapy can help to shrink the cancer and other treatments can help to control symptoms for a time.

Treatment by stage of the cancer

Your doctor will discuss with you the treatment options for your particular situation.

Stage 1 and stage 2

Stage 1 means the cancer is completely inside the pancreas and hasn't spread outside. Stage 2 means that the cancer has started to grow into nearby tissues around the pancreas. It may be in the duodenum or the bile duct. But there is no cancer in the nearby large blood vessels or lymph nodes.

Surgery to remove the pancreas is the most common treatment. You might also need to have some of the surrounding structures removed. These types of surgery are long and can be complicated. So you need to be well enough to have a big operation. 

Your specialist might suggest chemotherapy after your surgery to try to stop the cancer from coming back.

Stage 3 

The cancer is growing outside the pancreas, into the nearby large blood vessels. It may or may not have spread into the lymph nodes.
You usually have chemotherapy to shrink the cancer for a time and reduce symptoms.

If the cancer blocks the small bowel or the pancreatic duct you might have jaundice and won't be able to digest food properly. Your surgeon might suggest that you have a small tube called a stent. They can put it though the blockage so that digestive juices and bile can flow into the small bowel again.

Stage 4

The cancer has spread to other areas of the body such as the liver or lungs. You are most likely to have chemotherapy to shrink the cancer down and reduce symptoms.

You might also have other treatments to reduce symptoms.

Clinical trials to improve treatment

Your doctor might ask if you’d like to take part in a clinical trial. Doctors and researchers do trials to improve treatment by:

  • making existing treatments better
  • developing new treatments

Doctors are looking at some targeted treatments (biological therapy drugs) for pancreatic cancer. They are also looking at using a combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy to treat early or locally advanced cancers.

Information and help

Dangoor sponsorship

About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.