Initially patients with pancreatic cancer may not present with symptoms. The classic symptom of pancreatic cancer is painless jaundice, a yellowish skin discoloration. Once the disease progresses, additional symptoms may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
Pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed in later stages, after patients already start experiencing symptoms. Often, patients are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer after undergoing:
- Imaging tests, such as a CT scan or MRI
- Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) procedure, a nonsurgical, minimally invasive procedure that uses high-frequency sound waves to produce detailed images of the gastrointestinal tract and adjacent organs
- Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) procedures
- ERCP with Cholangiopancreatoscopy, which provides direct visualization into bile ducts and the pancreas
- Blood tests
- Biopsy, or removal of tissue for testing
If you have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, your doctors will discuss the treatment options available to you. Here are some of the common treatment options and questions to ask your doctor prior to starting treatment. Depending on the stage of pancreatic cancer, treatment options may include:
Potentially Curative Surgery:
- If detected in early stages, pancreatic cancer may be treated by surgical resection, which entails surgically removing the cancer. Unfortunately, fewer than 1 in 5 patients have pancreatic cancer confined to the pancreas at the time of diagnosis and are candidates for surgical resection.
- A Whipple procedure, or Pancreaticoduodenectomy, is the most common surgical procedure to remove cancer in the pancreas. During this procedure, the head of the pancreas is removed, along with nearby structures such as part of the small intestine, part of the bile duct, the gallbladder, lymph nodes near the pancreas, and sometimes part of the stomach. The remaining bile duct and pancreas are then attached to the small intestine so that bile and digestive enzymes can enter the small intestine. The pieces of the small intestine (or the stomach and small intestine) are then reattached as well so that food can pass through the digestive tract.
- Palliative surgery may be performed if tests indicate that the cancer is too widespread to be removed completely. This surgery is performed to help relieve symptoms or to help prevent certain complications such as a blocked bile duct or intestine. Palliative surgery is not meant to cure the cancer, but instead help improve the patient’s quality of life by helping to control symptoms and complications.
Chemotherapy and Radiation
Neoadjuvant therapy (Chemotherapy and Radiation) is treatment that is provided before primary therapy. Neoadjuvant chemotherapy may be performed to help shrink a tumor that is inoperable in its current state, so that it can be surgically removed.
Patient education: Biliary Metal Stents and Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)
The WallFlexTM Biliary RX metal stent is FDA cleared for use in the treatment of biliary strictures (abnormal narrowing of the bile duct) produced by malignant neoplasms (cancerous cells) and relief of malignant biliary obstruction (blockage) prior to surgery. WallFlex Biliary RX metal stents may be an option for pancreatic cancer patients who are candidates for treatment to help relieve malignant biliary obstruction while they receive neoadjuvant chemotherapy in preparation for surgery. Additionally, RFA therapy can be used with stenting to perform endoscopic biliary drainage or decompression (opening the duct) for symptom relief and may prolong patency (unobstruction) of the stent.1
There are numerous organizations dedicated to helping you or your loved one navigate pancreatic cancer. Through the following resources you’ll find more information on pancreatic cancer and diseases, patient and family support, financial assistance, helplines and patient communities.
The National Pancreas Foundation
The National Pancreas Foundation provides hope for those suffering from pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer through funding cutting edge research, advocating for new and better therapies, and providing support and education for patients, caregivers, and health care professionals.
The National Pancreas Foundation has online community resources for individuals and their family members who may be suffering from pancreatic diseases. In 2014, Boston Scientific provided the National Pancreas Foundation with an unrestricted educational grant that was used to develop educational animations that are featured on the Foundation's website.
Visit the National Pancreas Foundation Site
Cure Pancreatic Cancer
The Lustgarten Foundation is committed to advancing the scientific and medical research related to the diagnosis, treatment, cure and prevention of pancreatic cancer. The Foundation supports research to find a cure for pancreatic cancer, facilitates dialogue within the medical and scientific community, and educates the public about the disease through awareness campaigns and fundraising events.
Since its inception, the Foundation has directed more than $110 million to research and assembled the best scientific minds with the hope that one day, a cure will be found.
Due to the support of Cablevision Systems Corporation, a leading media and telecommunications company, 100 percent of every dollar donated to the Foundation goes directly to pancreatic cancer research.
Consider donating to The Lustgarten Foundation or participating in one of their upcoming walks or events in your area.
Learn More about the Lustgarten Foundation
Boston Scientific supports the development of patient education tools through the National Pancreas Foundation.
Close the Gap
Close the Gap is Boston Scientific’s health equity program dedicated to raising awareness for gastrointestinal diseases, educating patients, funding research and improving access to care.