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Pancreatic carcinoma

  • Alternative Names

    Pancreatic cancer; Cancer - pancreas


    Because pancreatic cancer is often advanced when it is first found, very few pancreatic tumors can be removed by surgery. The standard procedure is called a pancreaticoduodenectomy (Whipple procedure).

    This surgery should be done at centers that perform the procedure frequently. Some studies suggest that surgery is best performed at hospitals that do more than five of these surgeries per year.

    When the tumor has not spread out of the pancreas but cannot be removed, radiation therapy and chemotherapy together may be recommended.

    When the tumor has spread (metastasized) to other organs such as the liver, chemotherapy alone is usually used. The standard chemotherapy drug is gemcitabine, but other drugs may be used. Gemcitabine can help approximately 25% of patients.

    Patients whose tumor cannot be totally removed, but who have a blockage of the tubes that transport bile (biliary obstruction) must have that blockage relieved. There are generally two approaches to this:

    • Surgery
    • Placement of a tiny metal tube (biliary stent) during ERCP

    Management of pain and other symptoms is an important part of treating advanced pancreatic cancer. Hospice can help with pain and symptom management, and provide psychological support for patients and their families during the illness.

    Support Groups

    You can ease the stress of illness by joining a support group with members who share common experiences and problems (see cancer - support group).

    Expectations (prognosis)

    Some patients with pancreatic cancer that can be surgically removed are cured. However, in more than 80% of patients the tumor has already spread and cannot be completely removed at the time of diagnosis.

    Chemotherapy and radiation are often given after surgery to increase the cure rate (this is called adjuvant therapy). For pancreatic cancer that cannot be removed completely with surgery, or cancer that has spread beyond the pancreas, a cure is not possible and the average survival is usually less than 1 year. Such patients should consider enrolling in a clinical trial (a medical research study to determine the best treatment).

    Ninety-five percent of the people diagnosed with this cancer will not be alive 5 years later.

    • Blood clots
    • Depression
    • Infections
    • Liver problems
    • Pain
    • Weight loss

    Calling your health care provider

    Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you have:

    • Back pain
    • Unexplained fatigue or weight loss
    • Loss of appetite
    • Persistent abdominal pain
    • Other symptoms of this disorder