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Pancreatic Cancer (cont.)

Pancreatic Cancer Other Therapy

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is treatment that uses high-energy X-rays aimed at the cancer to kill cancer cells or to keep them from growing. For pancreatic cancer cases, radiation therapy is usually given in conjunction with chemotherapy.

The goals of radiation therapy are as follows:

  • Kill cancer cells that cannot be surgically removed to reduce the risk of the cancer returning or spreading.
  • Treat tumors that cannot be surgically removed and that are causing symptoms, such as pain or jaundice.

Typically, radiation treatments are given 5 days a week, for up to 6 weeks. Each treatment lasts only a few minutes and is completely painless; it is similar to having an X-ray film taken. However, some patients may experience nauseam diarrhea, heartburn, and related problems during the last few weeks of therapy or for several months following completion of treatment. Today, medications control those symptoms far better than they used to do.

The main side effects of radiation therapy include mild skin irritation, loss of appetite, nausea, diarrhea, or fatigue. These side effects usually resolve soon after treatment is complete (within 1 to 2 months).

Other therapy

Pancreatic cancer may cause symptoms that cannot always be relieved by surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy. These symptoms include the following:

  • Pain
  • Jaundice from obstruction of the bile duct

Therapies aimed at relieving the symptoms of pancreatic cancer, but not at treating the cancer itself, include the following:

  • Celiac plexus neurolysis (CPN): Sometimes referred to as a celiac block, celiac plexus neurolysis involves an injection of a chemical (usually alcohol) into the collection of nerves in the back of the abdomen, but in the front of the spine called the celiac plexus that receives pain signals from the pancreas. This chemical injection damages or numbs these nerves and reduces the sensation of pain caused by a pancreatic tumor.
    • The injection is performed either using an endoscope with ultrasound guidance or through the skin using a CT scanner for guidance.
    • Side effects include temporary diarrhea and lowering of blood pressure; abdominal pain occurs during and immediately after the procedure.
  • Biliary stenting: This involves placing a hollow tube, called a stent, into the bile duct to keep it open despite the external pressure from a growing pancreatic tumor. This prevents jaundice by allowing the bile to flow freely and unimpeded from the liver, past the pancreas, and into the intestine. This procedure is usually performed with an endoscope by a gastroenterologist, but it can also be performed percutaneously (through the skin) under CT guidance by an interventional radiologist.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/29/2016
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