Before we set up a specific treatment protocol for your pancreatic cancer, we will take the following into account:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history
  • Location and extent of the disease
  • Type of cancer
  • Your tolerance of specific medicines, procedures, or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the disease
  • Your opinion or preference

Depending on the type and stage, pancreatic cancer may be treated with the following:

Doctor discussing treatment options with nurses


Surgery, the most effective treatment may be necessary to remove the entire tumor, a section, or occasionally the entire pancreas. The type of surgery performed depends on the stage of the pancreatic cancer, the location and size of the tumor, and your overall health.

Our surgeons have extensive experience operating on the pancreas. These operations, because of their complexity should be done at Centers of Distinction, of which the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center is one. Blood transfusion and admission to the intensive care unit are rarely required. Most patients can eat soon after surgery and generally leave the hospital in less than one week. The surgeons also have extensive experience in performing pancreas surgeries using minimally invasive techniques resulting in less pain and a quicker recovery.

Types of surgery for pancreatic cancer include the following:

  • Whipple procedure: This procedure involves removal of the head of the pancreas, part of the small intestine, the gall bladder and part of the common bile duct and lymph nodes near the head of the pancreas. Most pancreatic tumors occur in the head of the pancreas, so the Whipple procedure is the most commonly performed surgical procedure for pancreatic cancer.
  • Distal pancreatectomy: If the tumor is located in the body and tail of the pancreas, both of these sections of the pancreas will be removed. Efforts are made to preserve the spleen which is attached to the pancreas. This is most often done using minimally invasive approaches using laparoscopy or with the assistance of the robot.
  • Total pancreatectomy: The entire pancreas, part of the small intestine the common bile duct, the spleen, the gallbladder, and some lymph nodes will be removed. This type of operation is not done often.
  • Palliative surgery: For more advanced cancers that cannot be completely removed, surgery may be undertaken to relieve symptoms caused by problems such as a blocked bile duct or obstruction of the stomach.

External Radiation (External Beam Therapy)

Radiation treatment, administered by a radiation therapist, sends high levels of radiation precisely and directly to the cancer cells. Since radiation is used to kill cancer cells and to shrink tumors, special shields may be used to protect the tissue surrounding the treatment area. Radiation treatments are painless and usually last a few minutes. Radiation therapy may be given alone, or in combination with surgery and/or chemotherapy.


Chemotherapy involves the use of anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells. In most cases, chemotherapy works by interfering with the cancer cell’s ability to grow or reproduce. Different groups of drugs work in different ways to fight cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be given alone, or in combination with surgery and radiation therapy. Chemotherapy and radiation can sometimes be given before surgery to shrink the tumor, making the surgery easier to perform.

Medication to Relieve or Reduce Pain

Your GI cancer team at the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center will recommend a treatment plan appropriate for your pancreatic cancer.