Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer

The treatment that’s right for pancreatic cancer depends mainly on the location of the tumor, spread of the disease, age and general health of the patient. Treatment options for people with cancer of the pancreas are:  


Surgery may be an option for people with an early stage of pancreatic cancer. The surgeon usually removes only the part of the pancreas that has cancer. But, in some cases, the whole pancreas may be removed. The type of surgery depends on the location of the tumor in the pancreas. Surgery to remove a tumor in the head of the pancreas is called a Whipple procedure. The Whipple procedure is the most common type of surgery for pancreatic cancer. In addition to removal of a part or entire pancreas, the surgeon usually removes nearby tissues like duodenum, gall bladder, common bile duct or part of the stomach. Also, the surgeon may remove the spleen and nearby lymph nodes.


Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. . For early pancreatic cancer, chemotherapy is usually given after surgery, but in some cases, it’s given before surgery. Chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer is usually given by vein (intravenous). The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel throughout your body. Chemotherapy kills fast-growing cancer cells, but the drugs can also harm normal cells that divide rapidly like blood cells, cells in hair roots and those lining the digestive tract.

Targeted Therapy

People with cancer of the pancreas who can’t have surgery may receive a type of drug called targeted therapy along with chemotherapy. Targeted therapy slows the growth of pancreatic cancer. It also helps prevent cancer cells from spreading. The drug is taken by mouth. Side effects may include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, a rash, and shortness of breath.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. It can be given along with other treatments, including chemotherapy. The radiation comes from a large machine. The machine aims beams of radiation at the cancer in the abdomen. Although radiation therapy is painless, it may cause other side effects. The side effects include nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.


Nutrition is an important part of your care. Getting the right nutrition can help you feel better and have more strength. However, pancreatic cancer and its treatment may make it hard for you to digest food and to maintain your weight. A dietitian can help you choose foods and nutrition products that will meet your needs and can make you feel more comfortable with eating.

Follow-up Care

You’ll need regular checkups (such as every 3 months) after treatment for cancer of the pancreas. Checkups help ensure that any changes in your health are noted and treated if needed. If you have any health problems between checkups, you should contact your doctor.
National Cancer Institute
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention