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Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School

Treatment

If your doctor confirms that you have pancreatic cancer, he or she will do tests to see how aggressive the cancer is and how much it has spread. This is called "staging." Your treatment depends on the cancer's stage. Treatment may include:

  • removing all or part of the pancreas (and any cancer that has spread nearby)

  • cancer killing drugs (chemotherapy)

  • radiation to kill cancer cells and control symptoms

In some cases, your doctor may suggest you enroll in a clinical trial. Clinical trials test promising but unproven treatments in patients.

In the rare case that the cancer has not spread outside the pancreas, doctors try to remove the cancer surgically. They may also recommend chemotherapy and or radiation as part of the treatment.

When the cancer has spread beyond the pancreas to nearby organs or other parts of the body, complete cure is unlikely. However, multiple treatments are available to decrease symptoms and prolong survival. You and your cancer specialist can consider how to proceed. Treatment options include:

  • radiation and/or chemotherapy

  • surgery or other procedures to reduce symptoms

  • new drugs and treatments still in the testing phase—for example, drugs that make cancer cells more vulnerable to radiation

Even when the cancer appears to be completely removed by surgery, it can come back, either in the pancreas or elsewhere in the body. If it does recur, the cancer can be treated with the same options as listed above.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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