Pancreatic cancer treatment and recovery

Curative surgery treatments

Surgery is the main curative treatment for pancreatic cancer, but it is not always successful in doing so.

  • Whipple procedure or pancreaticoduodenectomy. An operation to remove the head of the pancreas, the first part of the small intestine duodenum, the gallbladder and part of the bile duct. In some situations, part of the stomach and nearby lymph nodes may be removed as well. Your surgeon reconnects the remaining parts of your pancreas, stomach and intestines to allow you to digest food.
  • Distal pancreatectomy. Surgery to remove the body and tail of the pancreas, and possibly the spleen.
  • Total pancreatectomy. The entire pancreas is removed. Afterward, patients will need lifelong insulin and enzyme replacement.

Palliative surgery treatments

If the cancer has spread too far to be removed completely, any surgery being considered would be done to relieve symptoms from a blocked bile duct:

  • Stent placement. Done with an endoscope to place a stent inside the duct to keep it open. Often this is part of an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP).
  • Bypass surgery. Your surgeon reroutes the passage of food from the stomach directly to the small intestine, bypassing the pancreas.

Radiofrequency ablation. A special probe with tiny electrodes that attack cancer cells.

Cryosurgery. An instrument that freezes and destroys abnormal tissue.

Chemotherapy. Drugs that destroy cancer cells, usually by stopping the cancer cells’ ability to grow and divide. We often use more than one drug at a time for maximum results.

Targeted therapy or novel therapy. Drugs that target the cancer’s specific genes, proteins, or the tissue environment that contributes to cancer growth and survival. In recent years, targeted therapy has proven to be increasingly successful at controlling cancer and improving prognosis.

Immunotherapy. The treatment of cancer with medications to increase immune system function against the cancer.

Radiation therapy. High-energy X-rays or other particles that destroy cancer cells.

Pancreatic cancer: learn more