What is pancreatic cancer?
Pancreatic cancer begins when healthy cells in the pancreas stop working correctly and grow out of control, forming a mass called a tumor. The most common type of pancreatic cancer, called ductal adenocarcinoma, begins in the cells lining the pancreatic ducts. Signs or symptoms of pancreatic cancer may include abdominal pain, lower appetite or energy level, unexplained weight loss, and/or jaundice, which is yellowing of the skin and/or eyes. Pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed after it has spread to other parts of the body.
What does stage mean?
The stage is a way of describing the size and local extent of a cancer and whether it has spread to nearby lymph nodes or to other parts of the body. The most common method used to stage pancreatic cancer puts the cancer into 1 of 4 categories based on whether the tumor can be removed with surgery and where it has spread. The 4 categories used for pancreatic cancer are resectable, borderline resectable, locally advanced, and metastatic.
How is pancreatic cancer treated?
The treatment of pancreatic cancer depends on the size and location of the tumor, whether the cancer has spread, and the person’s overall health. The most common pancreatic cancer treatments are surgery, radiation therapy, and systemic therapies, such as chemotherapy. Certain subtypes of pancreatic cancer may also be treated with targeted therapy or immunotherapy. Surgery may involve removing all or part of the pancreas, along with the nearby lymph nodes, depending on the location and stage of the cancer. Chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy may be used if surgery is not recommended, before surgery to reduce the size of a tumor, or after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells and lower the chances of the cancer returning. Current recommendations for a person newly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer also include genetic counseling and genetic testing to see if the cancer can be passed from generation to generation in a family.
When making treatment decisions, you may also consider a clinical trial. Clinical trials are an option to consider for treatment and care for all stages of cancer. Talk with your doctor about all treatment options. The symptoms and side effects of pancreatic cancer and its treatment can often be prevented or managed with the help of your health care team. This is called palliative care or supportive care and is an important part of the overall treatment plan. Palliative care for pancreatic cancer includes controlling diabetes, managing pain, and improving digestion.
How can I cope with pancreatic cancer?
Absorbing the news of a cancer diagnosis and communicating with your health care team are key parts of the coping process. Seeking support, organizing your health information, making sure all of your questions are answered, and participating in the decision-making process are other steps. Talk with your health care team about any concerns. Understanding your emotions and those of people close to you can be helpful in managing the diagnosis, treatment, and healing process.