Treatments for pancreatic cancer

If you have pancreatic cancer, your healthcare team will create a treatment plan just for you. It will be based on your health and specific information about the cancer. When deciding which treatments to offer for pancreatic cancer, your healthcare team will consider the size and location of the tumour and your overall health.

The stage of the cancer, including if the tumour is resectable, borderline resectable or unresectable (locally advanced or metastatic), determines which treatments can be offered.

Resectable pancreatic tumours can be completely removed with surgery. Stage 1 or 2 tumours are often resectable. They are treated with surgery to remove part, or all, of the pancreas. Chemotherapy may be given after surgery (called adjuvant chemotherapy). If cancer cells are found in the tissue removed along with the tumour during surgery (called positive surgical margins), radiation therapy or chemoradiation may be given.

Borderline resectable pancreatic tumours are treated in a clinical trial setting, if possible. They may be treated before surgery with chemotherapy and chemoradiation (called neoadjuvant therapy).

Locally advanced pancreatic tumours (stage 3) are treated with chemotherapy, radiation therapy or chemoradiation. In some cases, surgery will be used to relieve symptoms of advanced cancer (called palliative surgery), but it isn’t used to try to remove the entire tumour.

Metastatic pancreatic tumours (stage 4) are treated with chemotherapy, with or without targeted therapy. Surgery, radiation therapy or both may be offered to relieve symptoms and control pain (called palliative therapy).

Expert review and references

  • Alberta Health Services. Adenocarcinoma of the Pancreas Clinical Practice Guideline [GI-006]. Alberta Health Services; 2015.
  • American Cancer Society. Pancreatic Cancer. 2016.
  • American Society of Clinical Oncology. Pancreatic Cancer. 2015.
  • Pancreas. BC Cancer Agency. BC Cancer Agency. Revised ed. Vancouver, BC: BC Cancer Agency; 2013.
  • About pancreatic cancer. Macmillan Cancer Support. Macmillan Cancer Support. London, UK: Macmillan Cancer Support; 2013.
  • National Cancer Institute. Pancreatic Cancer Treatment (PDQ®) Patient Version. 2016.
  • National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma (Version 2.2016).
  • Wicklin Gillespie T . Pancreatic exocrine tumors. Handy, CM & O'Dea D (eds.). Pancreatic and Hepatobiliary Cancers. Oncology Nursing Society; 2013: 2:3-11.

Treatments for resectable pancreatic cancer

Surgery is the primary treatment for resectable pancreatic cancer. Learn about treatments, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Treatments for borderline resectable pancreatic cancer

Borderline resectable pancreatic cancer is treated with a combination of therapies. Chemotherapy and chemoradiation are used before surgery.

Treatments for locally advanced pancreatic cancer

There are a few treatment options for locally advanced pancreatic cancer. Learn more about treatments, including chemoradiation, chemotherapy and surgery.

Treatments for metastatic pancreatic cancer

Treatments for metastatic pancreatic cancer include chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy. Learn about treatment options.

Treatments for recurrent pancreatic cancer

Treatments for recurrent pancreatic cancer include chemotherapy, surgery, radiation and targeted therapy. Learn about treatment options.

Surgery for pancreatic cancer

Surgery is usually used to treat pancreatic cancer.

Chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer

Chemotherapy is commonly used to treat pancreatic cancer. Learn how and when chemotherapy is used and what chemotherapy drugs are used.

Radiation therapy for pancreatic cancer

Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to destroy cancer cells. It is sometimes used to treat pancreatic cancer. Learn about radiation and chemoradiation and how they are used to treat pancreatic cancer.

Follow-up after treatment for pancreatic cancer

Follow-up after pancreatic cancer treatment varies. Learn about scheduled follow-up appointments and the procedures and tests that may be done.