Pancreatic cancer treatment
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, you know that finding the right care quickly is critical in developing the right treatment plan for you.
With a proven track record of advances in diagnosing and treating pancreatic cancer, the HonorHealth Virginia G. Piper Cancer Care Network in the greater Phoenix area can give you personalized care – from diagnosis through treatment. Your care team partners with the HonorHealth Research Institute in Scottsdale where clinical trials have shown promising results even for patients with Stage IV pancreatic cancer.
What happens when I make my first appointment?
HonorHealth physicians and researchers are passionate about giving pancreatic cancer patients every option available. Because of this, you'll probably meet first with the team at the HonorHealth Research Institute. Research oncologists will discuss treatment plan options including pancreatic cancer clinical trials that could help slow or even halt the progress of your cancer – even in Stage IV.
While formulating your treatment plan, your doctors will consider such factors as your age, prognosis, other health conditions you have, the stage of your cancer and how you feel about possible side effects from treatments. Be sure to ask any questions you might have.
Because each pancreatic tumor is different, your HonorHealth specialists may order molecular profiling of your tumor. Known as precision medicine, it can help doctors determine the treatment plan that will work best for you.
Treatment options for pancreatic cancer
Pancreatic cancer treatment options at HonorHealth can include surgery, ablation, chemotherapy, radiation, clinical trials, targeted therapy, immunotherapy or a combination of these methods:
Clinical trials: You may qualify for a pancreatic cancer clinical trial at the HonorHealth Research Institute where scientists are exploring new treatments, using new agents, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and vaccines.
Related: Read patient stories about pancreatic cancer clinical trials:
Surgery: Surgery is a critical part of the treatment of pancreatic cancer. It allows surgeons to remove all visible disease and potentially offers a chance for cure or long-term survival. Surgery is offered to patients whose pancreatic cancer has not spread to other organs. Usually, chemotherapy and/or radiation before surgery can help improve surgical outcomes by shrinking the tumor and making it easier for the surgeon to remove. Chemotherapy and/or radiation before surgery also can boost a patient's recovery afterward.
The two most common surgeries offered for pancreatic cancer, depending on the location of the tumor, are the Whipple procedure or a distal pancreatectomy. With a Whipple procedure, the surgeon removes the head of the pancreas, the duodenum, the bile duct, the gallbladder and part of the stomach. The surgeon then reconnects the pancreas, bile duct and stomach, allowing the patient to eat and digest food normally.
With a distal pancreatectomy, the end of the pancreas (usually the body and tail) are removed. There's no need for any connections in this surgery. In most cases, the surgeon will offer a minimally invasive or robotic-assisted option to minimize pain and improve recovery time. Chemotherapy and/or radiation after surgery can increase your chances of long-term survival. They also could lessen chances of recurrence or slow the progression of the cancer, allowing you to live longer.
Ablation: It uses radiofrequency waves, microwave therapy or cold therapy to destroy a tumor.
Chemotherapy: Pancreatic cancers often spread within the belly and to the liver first. The cancer also can travel to the lungs, brain, bones and other organs. Chemotherapy drugs may be given by mouth or injection to destroy cancer cells that have spread elsewhere in the body (metastatic cancer) or help prevent them from growing and dividing. Chemo also can help kill any cancer cells remaining after surgery.
If cancer progresses during chemo, you can switch to other treatment options.
Radiation therapy: Your treatment may include radiation, which damages cancer cells to prevent them from growing and dividing. The goal is to target cancer cells without harming nearby healthy tissue. Radiation also can shrink tumors enough to allow surgery, relieve pain and eliminate cancer cells that might remain after surgery.
Targeted therapy: This newer type of chemotherapy targets specific parts of pancreatic cancer cells that allow them to grow out of control. Targeted therapy is sometimes used by itself, but more often teams up with other cancer treatments.
Immunotherapy: Also called biologic therapy, immunotherapy boosts your body's natural defenses to recognize and destroy cancer cells. Using substances made by the body (antibodies, viruses and T-cells, for example) or in a laboratory, immunotherapy may work by:
- Helping your immune system destroy cancer cells
- Stopping or slowing cancer cell growth
- Stopping cancer's spread to other parts of the body
Many targeted therapy and immunotherapies are being tested in clinical trials at the HonorHealth Research Institute and elsewhere.
Members of your pancreatic cancer treatment team
You and your family will be surrounded by a caring, compassionate team, which could include:
- A medical oncologist, a specialist who uses chemotherapy and other medications to treat cancer
- A radiation oncologist, a specialist who uses radiation to treat cancer
- Researchers at the HonorHealth Research Institute
- A surgeon
- An endocrinologist, a specialist who treats disease in glands, like the pancreas, that secrete hormones
- A cancer care nurse navigator who will guide you throughout your treatment, helping you navigate more easily through unfamiliar medical territory
- Social workers
An HonorHealth support services team of navigators, social workers, exercise physiologists, nutritionists and librarians, as well as support groups and classes for patients and caregivers, can help you as you move from diagnosis into treatment and post-treatment activities.