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Pancreatic Cancer Treatment Options

UPMC Hillman Cancer Center offers a complete spectrum of care for pancreatic cancer.

Our surgical, radiation, and medical oncologists work as a team to find the best mix of therapeutic approaches for you. This includes the chance to take part in clinical trials of cancer treatments you might not find elsewhere.

Our extensive experience is the foundation of a broad knowledge base that provides insight into each person’s unique situation.

Every type of pancreatic cancer treatment — traditional and novel — is within our scope of expertise.

Because pancreatic cancer varies in type and scope, your treatment depends on several factors They include:

  • The type, stage, and location of the cancer
  • Whether the cancer has spread
  • Symptoms
  • Medical history
  • Overall health
  • Quality of life

Earlier detection can lead to more treatment options and a better chance at survival. UPMC Hillman Cancer Center is a leader in research on better ways to treat pancreatic cancer. Clinical trials are also available.

We provide palliative and supportive care to our patients through:

  • Family support
  • Symptom management
  • Psychosocial care
  • Spiritual care

Our team consults with your family and loved ones about prognosis and care goals. They also provide support once you leave the hospital, including home care, hospice, and nursing homes.

Depending on your specific case, more than one of the following treatment options may be used.

Surgery for pancreatic cancer

Surgery is often the most effective treatment for pancreatic cancers.

In some cases, surgery can cure pancreatic cancer. If doctors cannot remove the entire tumor, surgery can relieve symptoms or prevent complications.

Our surgical oncologists are experts in minimally invasive and robotic techniques to remove cancerous (malignant) and noncancerous (benign) pancreatic tumors.

Our team includes pioneers in the robotically assisted pancreaticoduodenectomy, or Whipple procedure. Only a few centers in the United States offer this minimally invasive technique, and UPMC is one of them. Our team performs more robotically assisted pancreatic surgeries than anyone in the country.

Your surgeon will discuss your options with you after a thorough review of your diagnosis.

Depending on the type and stage of your cancer, surgery may not be possible. If that is the case, our team will develop a comprehensive treatment plan for you using other therapies like medical oncology or radiation therapy.

Medical oncology for pancreatic cancer

Medical oncology for pancreatic cancer includes:

  • Chemotherapy – The use of anti-cancer drugs or chemicals.
  • Gene therapy – Delivers specific genes, including normal ones, to cancer cells to try to replace them.
  • Immunotherapy – Works with the immune system to change the cancer’s chemical environment.
  • Regional perfusion – Delivers high concentration of chemotherapy drugs or chemicals to the cancer site without affecting healthy cells around it. Used in advanced or late-stage cancers.

Side effects vary with the type of treatment. The treatment course depends on the type and stage of the cancer.

Most times, you will have medical oncology treatment along with surgery or radiation.

Radiation for pancreatic cancer

Radiation oncology is best suited for treating exocrine pancreatic cancers. Exocrine pancreatic cancer responds well to radiation treatment, while endocrine tumors often do not.

Radiation treatment is painless. Each type of radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells.

Usually, your care team will advise radiation before your surgical procedure to reduce delays in treatment. Sometimes, radiation therapy is appropriate after surgery as well.

Radiation therapy also can be used when surgery is not an option. In those cases, radiation can help shrink the tumor, stop the cancer from spreading, or help manage pain.

Often, the team will pair radiation oncology with medical cancer treatment.

In addition to these approaches, we offer services that can make you more comfortable and your treatments more effective.

Our support network includes:

Social workers are also part of the pancreatic cancer care team.

They can help you and your loved ones overcome any treatment barriers or other issues by providing access to:

  • Community resources
  • Transportation services
  • Other practical assistance

Cancer treatment can cause side effects. Our team at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center will work with you to properly manage any side effects that arise. Examples of side effects from various cancer treatments include:

  • Changes in taste
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lowered white or red blood cell counts
  • Lowered blood platelet counts
  • Mouth sores
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Skin rash, redness, or irritation
  • Tingling or numbness

Depending on the type and stage of your cancer, our team will work with you to create the proper course of treatment.

Different factors affect your chance of recovery and the best treatment for you including:

  • Whether surgery can fully remove your tumor.
  • The stage of your cancer, including the tumor’s size and whether it spread outside the pancreas.
  • Your overall health.
  • Whether the cancer was just diagnosed or was a previous cancer that came back.
Doctors and nurses talking at a conference table

Pancreatic Specialty Care

Our multidisciplinary team of experts at Pancreatic Specialty Care care for patients who have an advanced form of cancer or metastatic cancer, or those who want a second opinion.

Learn more about Pancreatic Specialty Care.