Conditions & Treatments

Your treatment will vary depending on the stage of pancreatic cancer.

There are many treatments for pancreatic cancer. If we detect and diagnose the disease early enough, we often can treat it with surgery.

Our pancreatic surgery program has received a “best in outcomes” rating for pancreatic resections from the Leapfrog Group and a 5-star rating for complex gastrointestinal operations and procedures from Healthgrades.

Our team of specialists will help you navigate your surgical and non-surgical treatment options for pancreatic cancer.

Pancreas surgery

If you are generally healthy enough to undergo surgery, you may be a candidate for potentially curative surgery or palliative surgery, depending on the cancer’s stage. We will first diagnose the type of disease you have, which will help us determine what kind of surgery to perform.

Potentially curative surgery

For patients whose tumors can be entirely removed, this is a potentially life-saving, yet intensive, surgery. It involves a pancreatic resection -- removing the cancerous tumor from the pancreas. This procedure usually is performed with a large incision down the abdomen. However, we can perform this procedure with minimally invasive options such as robotic-assisted resection.

Before we operate, patients will often undergo other treatment options to shrink the tumor as much as possible – including chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination of both.

Fewer than 1 in 5 pancreatic cancers are confined to the pancreas when they are detected. If your cancer has spread beyond the pancreas, this kind of surgery cannot cure it. Traditional resection surgery can cause complications, and some patients need weeks or months to recover from it.

Palliative surgery

Palliative surgery will not cure pancreatic cancer. It is used to relive symptoms or other health issues arising from tumor growth on the pancreas, such as digestive complications. Because there are risks involved with major surgery, we usually don’t recommend this option for pancreatic cancer patients at an advanced stage of the disease unless their symptoms are debilitating; impairing digestive functions or causing severe illness.

Nonsurgical treatment for pancreatic cancer

Whenever possible, we recommend minimally invasive techniques to remove or destroy cancerous tumors. These techniques help patients avoid the large incisions and painful recovery associated with traditional surgery methods.

NanoKnife

One minimally invasive treatment available to pancreatic cancer patients is NanoKnife. This technique uses a technology called irreversible electroporation, which sends electrical pulses through small needles placed around a tumor. This creates tiny holes in the tumor, killing cancer cells while avoiding damage to the surrounding area of the pancreas.

Henry Ford Hospital was the first hospital in Michigan to use NanoKnife for otherwise inoperable pancreatic tumors. We use the NanoKnife to treat inoperable pancreatic tumors and prevent them from growing again. These tumors may be too close to vital blood vessels or ducts in the pancreas to safely perform traditional surgery.

NanoKnife is offered to patients whose pancreatic cancer tumors are otherwise inoperable, or those at an advanced stage of the disease where curative surgery isn’t an option. Ask your doctor if you’re a candidate for NanoKnife.

Other minimally invasive treatments

Some of our other minimally invasive and non-surgical techniques include:

  • Ablation: Similar to the technique used for liver cancer treatment, we can use radiofrequency or extreme cold to destroy your tumor
  • Chemotherapy
  • Clinical trial therapies
  • Portal vein embolization/chemoembolization: We use particles and metallic coils to block blood flow to a tumor, stopping it from growing further and allow for safe removal later
  • Radioembolization (Therasphere): We block the tumor’s blood supply with millions of tiny radioactive microspheres as we apply targeted radiation to destroy the tumor
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