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Pancreatic cancer is one of the most difficult cancers to diagnose and treat, and has the highest mortality rate of all major cancers. About 43,000 cases of pancreatic cancer will be diagnosed this year, mostly in people over the age of 65. *Source: American Cancer Society

Pancreatic Cancer Treatment

Once cancer has been detected, biopsied and classified by stage your team of specialists in oncology, radiation oncology, surgery and pathology will work together to plan the best course of treatment. This includes formulating a coordinated plan of personalized treatment consistent with the highest standards of care. Your treatment will be tailored to the stage of pancreatic cancer you have, and may include a combination of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and the use of drugs known as biological agents. Also, you may want to explore clinical trials, which are studies that are testing the efficacy of experimental treatments not yet approved by the FDA. Because these are experimental, there is no guarantee that the treatments work. Talk to your WellStar physician to determine whether a clinical trial may be important for you.

Pancreatic Cancer Surgery

Surgery is the most effective way to treat pancreatic cancer, when the cancer is still localized in the pancreas. When the cancer has spread to other organs other modalities of treatment need to be considered.

Depending on location of the cancer in the pancreas, the two main operations on the pancreas are:

  • Whipple operation (pancreaticoduodenectomy) for cancer of the head of the pancreas.
  • Distal pancreatectomy with possible splenectomy for cancers of the body and tail of the pancreas.

An important factor to be considered before an operation on the pancreas is the relationship of the tumor to some critical blood vessels. Depending on this relationship, pancreatic cancer localized to the pancreas are broadly classified into 3 categories:

  • Resectable: cancers that can be completely removed with no microscopic cells left behind.
  • Borderline resectable: cancers that involve some of the critical vessels, but can potentially be shrunken with chemotherapy and radiation to make operation feasible.
  • Unresectable: cancers that completely engulf the critical vessels and hence cannot be shrunken in spite of chemotherapy and radiation.

At Wellstar, a multidisciplinary team of dedicated pancreatic surgeons, medical oncologists and radiation oncologists evaluate all patients with pancreatic cancer. This team strives to convert every borderline resectable cancer to a resectable one using preoperative chemotherapy and radiation (IMRT).

Surgical teams of pancreatic surgeons and vascular surgeons often work together to then resect these borderline cancers.

Dedicated OR teams who specialize in the performance of these procedures to dedicated surgical nurses in the ICU and surgical floors and other support staff such as nutritionist and physical therapist make recovery from these operation safe.

Medical Oncology/Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs given by mouth or injection to destroy cancer cells. It can be used to assist in the cure of cancer patients or to prolong life or the quality of life. Chemotherapy is typically used for pancreatic cancer patients even if the cancer has not spread to other organs.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-powered beams of energy to kill cancer cells. This kind of therapy is often used to treat symptoms of other organs affected by pancreatic cancer. Specifically, Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT), a treatment that tailors the radiation to the size and location of the tumor, while sparing healthy tissue.