Find out about your options for pancreatic cancer treatments, and complementary treatments that can be used alongside medical care.

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Our new booklet 'Understanding pancreatic cancer' is available now.

Understanding Pancreatic Cancer booklet 2022
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Download Section Five of our pancreatic cancer booklet: Pancreatic cancer treatments

  • Your cancer treatment team will advise you on the best treatment for
    pancreatic cancer.
  • Depending on the stage of the cancer, treatment may include:
    • surgery
    • radiation treatment
    • chemotherapy
    • palliative care
    •  or a combination of these.
  • If you are thinking about using complementary, traditional Māori, or Pacific therapies, please talk about them with your cancer treatment team.

  • Mā tō rōpū atawhai koe e kōrero mō te maimoatanga pai rawa mō te matepukupuku repetaiaki huka.
  • E ai ki te wāhanga kua eke tō matepukupuku, tērā pea ka mahia ko ēnei maimoa
    • te hāparapara
    • te maimoatanga iraruke
    • te mahi hauhau
    • te whakaora atawhai taurima
    • he whiriwhiringa rānei o ēnei.
  • Mehemea e whakaaro ana koe ki te whakamahi haumanu tautoko, haumanu Māori taketake, haumanu Moana-nui-ā-Kiwa, kōrero mō ēnei ki tō rōpū maimoa matepukupuku.
Section 5 Treatments

Treatment options

Your treatment team will advise you on the best treatment for your pancreatic cancer.

Depending on the stage of the cancer, it may include:

  • surgery
  • radiation treatment
  • chemotherapy
  • palliative care
  • or a combination of these.

Sometimes the goal of treatment is to cure the cancer. When this is not possible, there are treatment options that may reduce symptoms and improve your quality of life.

Surgery to treat pancreatic cancer

If pancreatic cancer is early stage (stage 1 or 2), you may be able to have surgery to remove it.

If the cancer cannot be removed, you may be offered surgery to help control some of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer.

There are different surgeries used to treat pancreatic cancer. All surgeries remove part (or sometimes all) of the pancreas. Other organs around the pancreas may also be removed.

The most common type of surgery is called the Whipple procedure.

You can find more information on pancreatic cancer surgery and the
Whipple procedure on the following websites:

Pancreatica

Waitematā DHB

Pancreatic Cancer UK


Distal pancreatectomy

A distal pancreatectomy removes the body and tail of the pancreas. Sometime the spleen is removed at the same time. This is called a splenectomy.

Total pancreatectomy

A total pancreatectomy removes the whole pancreas. Depending on where the
cancer is, the surgeon may also remove other organs.

Find out more on surgery for pancreatic cancer


Side effects of surgery

These can include:

  • Problems with digesting your food
  • Diabetes
  • You may need immunisations and antibiotics

Stents and bypass surgery can be used to help control the symptoms of pancreatic cancer, such as jaundice and feeling/being sick.

Find out more about bypass surgery

Chemotherapy treatment

Chemotherapy uses medication to kill cancer cells or slow their growth.

It affects cells throughout the body and is used to reduce the risk of cancer returning to the pancreas or growing in other parts of the body.

Chemotherapy may be given:

  • before surgery
  • after surgery
  • to improve symptoms
  • as palliative treatment

In Aotearoa New Zealand the chemotherapy medication nab-paclitaxel (ABRAXANE) has been approved for use (but not funded) for some advanced pancreatic cancers (2022). You may like to ask your oncologist if there are any unfunded treatments available that may be beneficial for you.

How chemotherapy is given

  • As tablets (oral chemotherapy)
  • Into a vein (intravenously)

Chemotherapy side effects vary depending on the combination of medications you receive.

Some side effects of chemotherapy can be life threatening. If you develop any concerning  symptoms you must contact your treatment team, or go immediately to your nearest hospital emergency department and tell them you are receiving chemotherapy treatment.

Find out more about chemotherapy

Radiation treatment

Radiation treatment is the use of x-ray beams to destroy cancer cells or slow their growth.

Radiation treatment only affects the part of the body that the beams are aimed at. 

How radiation treatment is given

  • External beam radiation treatment
  • Stereotactic radiation treatment

Radiation treatment is available at specialist treatment centres throughout New Zealand. If you need to be away from home for your treatment, help may be available for transport and accommodation costs.

Side effects of radiation treatment

People react to treatment in different ways. Side effects are usually temporary, but some may last for several weeks to a few months or they may be permanent.

OncoSil

A newer form of radiation treatment, called OncoSil, is available for people who meet specific treatment criteria. It is currently only available in Waikato (2022). This treatment is not funded in Aotearoa New Zealand. However, you may want to ask your treatment team if this treatment is suitable for you.

Find out more about radiation treatment

Find out more about the National Travel Assistance programme

Targeted treatment

Targeted treatment uses medication to target the damaged genes or proteins of cancer cells to stop the cancer growing and spreading

There have been recent advances in pancreatic cancer treatment. Unfortunately,
these treatments are expensive and Pharmac is not able to provide funding for all
the treatments that might be helpful for the management of cancer.

You may like to ask your oncologist if there are any unfunded treatments available that may be beneficial for you. Your oncologist can give you an estimate of the cost involved if you choose to fund your own treatment.

Find out more about targeted treatment

Palliative treatment and supportive care

Palliative treatment is for people with advanced cancer (stage 4) and focuses on improving quality of life.

Anyone with pancreatic cancer may need supportive care. It includes the management of physical symptoms, emotional and spiritual support, and guidance to help you plan ahead.

Supportive care will mostly be provided by your primary health care team, Cancer Society support workers, and palliative care services.

Advance care planning

An important part of planning ahead is preparing an advance care plan to help you and your whānau talk about the treatments and care you may want towards the end of your life.

Find out more about advance care planning

Complementary and alternative treatment

It is important to discuss any additional treatments you are using with your treatment team.

Some treatments may be harmful if they are taken at the same time as medical treatments.

Complementary treatments are healing practices or products that are not usually part of standard medical care but may be used to complement medical treatments. E.g. massage, meditation, acupuncture.

Alternative treatments are used instead of medical treatment. Some alternative therapists may claim their treatments are cancer cures – this is very unlikely to be true.

Find out more about complementary and alternative medicine

Traditional Māori and Pasifika healing

Traditional healing has been a central part of Māori culture for generations.

Values, belief systems and teachings from kaumātua and tohunga have seen Māori focus on total wellbeing, which includes taha tinana, taha hinengaro, taha wairua and taha whānau (the physical domain, the domain of the mind and behaviour, the spiritual domain and the whānau or social domain).

Traditional healing is also important for Pasifika peoples to help in their recovery.

It also takes a holistic approach to treating the person, where mental, emotional, physical and spiritual needs are looked after together.

If you are thinking about using these treatments, please talk about them with your cancer treatment team.

Find out more about traditional healing

Mai rā anō te hauora Māori i noho ai hei wāhanga ō te ahurea Māori. Nā ngā uaratanga, te pūnaha whakapono me ngā akoranga a ngā kaumātua me ngā tohunga i kitea ai te arotahi a te Māori ki te oranga kotahi e rarawhi ana i te taha tinana, te taha hinengaro, te taha wairua me te taha whānau.

Ka whai wāhi te rongoā Māori, te romiromi, te mirimiri rānei, hei tauira atu. Ka hāngai katoa ki tarutaru otaota whenua me ngā rākau, te haumanu romiromi me te whakaoranga ā-wairua.

Ka taea etahi atu mōhiohio e pa ana ki te rongoā Māori me ngā kaiwhakarato i runga i tō mātou paetukutuku: www.cancer.org.nz/traditional-healing/

Last updated: September 22, 2022