Types Of Pancreatic Cancer Treatment You Should Be Aware Of
This article will educate you on the types of gastroenterology treatment available as the standard of care for pancreatic cancer. Standard of care refers to evidence-based treatments shown to be effective in patients with pancreatic cancer.
If you have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the available treatment options are mainly surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy. Included in the cancer care plan is also treatment for any side effects and symptoms. Your doctor might recommend a different treatment approach depending on the cancer’s stage. When detected early, pancreatic cancer has a higher chance of being treated successfully.
Treatment options available
Depending on the tumour’s size and location, surgery usually involves removing part of or all of the pancreas. If removing only a part of the pancreas, a small area of the unaffected part of the pancreas is often removed as well to ensure that there are no remnants of cancer cells at the surrounding edge of the healthy tissues. The key types of surgery performed to treat pancreatic cancer are:
- Laparoscopy: During this procedure, several tiny holes are made in the stomach to allow a tiny camera to see if the cancer has spread to another abdominal region. If it has, surgery to remove the pancreas’s tumour is not recommended.
- Surgical removal: There are different kinds of surgical removal, depending on where the pancreas’s tumour is located.
- Whipple procedure: Also referred to as pancreaticoduodenectomy, this procedure is recommended if the tumour is located only at the head of the pancreas. The surgeon will remove the entire head and part of the duodenum, sometimes part of the stomach and bile duct.
- Distal pancreatectomy: This procedure is recommended if the tumour is found at the left side of the end of the pancreas. The surgeon will remove the end and surrounding body, as well as the spleen.
- Total pancreatectomy:This procedure is recommended if the tumour is found at several sections of or has spread throughout the pancreas. The surgeon will remove the entire pancreas together with part of the stomach, gallbladder, spleen, common bile duct, and duodenum.
Surgery may sometimes be combined with the other treatments listed below.
Chemotherapy is the administration of drugs to kill cancer cells. It is a type of systemic therapy that is commonly employed either through medications given orally or intravenously. A chemotherapy treatment plan usually involves a set number of cycles administered over a period of time. For pancreatic cancer, chemotherapy is recommended depending on the stage of the cancer.
- Neo-adjuvant Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy may be given before surgical resection to shrink the size of the tumour.
- Adjuvant chemotherapy: Typically administered to patients with pancreatic cancer after surgery.
- Palliative chemotherapy: If the patient or the cancer is not suitable for surgical resection, chemotherapy may be offered to prolong life.
Some side effects of chemotherapy may include lack of appetite, vomiting, hair loss, and fatigue.
This treatment targets the cancer cells’ specific proteins, tissue environment, and genes that contribute to the cancer survival and growth. Targeted therapy blocks the spread and growth of the cells, limiting damage to any unaffected healthy cells. To find the proper treatment, your doctor might conduct a test that will help to identify the cancer cells’ genes and proteins. Examples of targeted therapy include:
- Erlotinib: This drug is suitable for patients who have advanced pancreatic cancer and is usually combined with chemotherapy. Taken as a pill once a day, this drug blocks the spread of cancer. However, it comes with side effects, such as diarrhoea, fatigue, and loss of appetite.
- Olaparib: This drug is suitable for patients who have metastatic pancreatic cancer. Taken as a pill twice a day, this drug is more of a maintenance drug for patients that have been through chemotherapy. Some side effects associated are change in taste, reduced red and white blood cells, and joint and muscle pain.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to destroy the cancer cells. There are several ways that radiation therapy is employed:
- Traditional radiation therapy: Also called conventional fractionated radiation therapy, the therapy procedure consists of 5-6 weeks’ worth of low-dose radiation per day.
- Stereotactic body radiation (SBRT): It is a newer form of radiation therapy that involves higher doses over shorter treatment periods of at least five days.
- Proton beam therapy: This is an external-beam radiation therapy that utilizes protons instead of x-rays.
Chemotherapy is often given together with radiation therapy to enhance its effects.
Radiation therapy also is helpful in reducing the return of pancreatic cancer. However, side effects that the patient might experience include mild skin reactions, upset stomach, nausea, and fatigue.
Treatment of pancreatic cancer involving Immunotherapy refers to a class of treatments that utilise the patient’s own immune system to help kill cancer cells. There are currently two FDA-approved immunotherapy options for a small subset of patients with pancreatic cancer, but there are more in the pipeline in clinical trials.
Pancreatic cancer treatment costs are not cheap. Recovering from pancreatic cancer may not always be possible. Sometimes, it may recur or, worse still, be progressive. Cancer screening can help to detect cancers at an early stage. Remember that only you can take charge of your own health.