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About advanced pancreatic cancer

Men and women discussing pancreatic cancer

This page is about advanced pancreatic cancer. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

About advanced pancreatic cancer

Advanced pancreatic cancer means the cancer has spread from where it started in the pancreas or has come back some time after you were first treated. In many people, pancreatic cancer can be quite advanced when it is first diagnosed and it is then not usually possible to cure it.

Even if the cancer is advanced, treatment is available to control your symptoms. You may have chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery for advanced pancreatic cancer. You may also have pain control with pain killing drugs or nerve blocks. You may be able to take part in trials of experimental treatments for advanced pancreatic cancer.

Deciding about treatment

It can be difficult to decide which treatment to try, or whether to have treatment at all when you have an advanced cancer. Your doctor will discuss the options with you. It can be helpful to talk over difficult decisions with someone outside your family and friends, such as your clinical nurse specialist or a counsellor. There is information about counselling in the coping with cancer section.
 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the treating pancreatic cancer section.

 

 

What advanced pancreatic cancer is

Unfortunately, pancreatic cancer can be quite advanced when it is first diagnosed. This is because you may not know you have the cancer at first. You may not have had any symptoms when the cancer was in its early stages. Or symptoms you had may have been vague and difficult to spot. Advanced pancreatic cancer means the cancer may have spread from where it started, or come back some time after you were first treated. It can be divided into

Unfortunately, if you have advanced pancreatic cancer, it is not usually possible to cure it. But your doctor may suggest treatment to try to shrink the tumour down, slow its growth, or relieve symptoms. There is information about coping with the emotional and practical aspects of advanced cancer in the section about dying with cancer.

Locally advanced disease

This means the cancer has spread into nearby lymph nodes, or organs such as the stomach, bile duct or small bowel (duodenum), but has not spread to organs further away in the body.

Metastatic disease

This means that the cancer has spread through the bloodstream, or the lymphatic system, to other organs in the body. The most common place for it to spread to is the liver. But it could spread to the lining of the bowel or abdomen (the peritoneum), the lungs, the bones, or somewhere else. Cancer that has spread from where it started to other organs in the body is called secondary cancer or metastases. We have information about cancer that has spread to the liver, the lungs and the bones.

 

Treatment options

Even if your cancer cannot be cured, there is treatment available to control your symptoms. This treatment may also shrink the cancer and slow it down, even if it cannot get rid of it altogether.

We have information in this section on treatment with chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery for advanced pancreatic cancer. The choice of treatment that is best for you depends on

  • Where in the body the cancer has spread
  • The size and number of any secondary cancers
  • The treatment you have already had
  • Your general health

You may also need pain control with pain killing drugs or nerve blocks.

There may be trials of experimental treatments going on which you could take part in. These may be trials for new chemotherapy drugs, new types of pain control or new types of treatment. Look in the trials and research section for more information about taking part in clinical trials.

 

Deciding about treatment

It can be difficult to decide which treatment to try, or whether to have treatment at all, when you have an advanced cancer. You will need to consider your quality of life while you are having the treatment. This includes side effects as well as stresses such as travelling back and forth to the hospital. Most importantly you will need to understand what can be achieved with the treatment you are being offered.

Your doctor will discuss the options for treatment with you. There may be a counsellor or specialist nurse at the hospital you could chat to. You may also wish to talk things over with a close relative or friend.

It can be helpful to talk over difficult decisions with someone who is outside your circle of family and friends. Contact a counselling organisation to find out more about counselling and how to find a counsellor in your area.

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Updated: 18 December 2012