Pancreatic Cancer (cont.)

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What are the side effects of pancreatic cancer treatment?

Side effects of treatment for pancreatic cancer vary depending on the type of treatment. For example, radiation treatment (which is a local treatment) side effects tend to accumulate throughout the course of radiation therapy and include fatigue, nausea, and diarrhea. Chemotherapy side effects depend on the type of chemotherapy given (less aggressive chemotherapy treatments typically cause fewer side effects whereas more aggressive combination regimens are more toxic) and can include fatigue, loss of appetite, change in taste, hair loss (although not usually), and lowering of the immune system with risk for infections (immunosuppression). While these lists of side effects may seem worrisome, recognize that radiation doctors (radiation oncologists) and medical oncologists have much better supportive medications than they did in years past to control any nausea, pain, diarrhea, or immunosuppression related to treatment. The risks associated with pancreatic cancer treatment must be weighed against the inevitable and devastating risks associated with uncontrolled pancreatic cancer and, if the treatments control progression of the cancer, most patients feel better on treatment that they otherwise would.

What is the prognosis of pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer is a difficult disease. Even for surgically resectable (and therefore curable) tumors, the risk of cancer recurrence and subsequent death remains high. Only about 20% of patients undergoing a Whipple procedure for curable pancreatic cancer live 5 years, with the rest surviving on average less than 2 years. For patients with incurable (locally advanced unresectable or metastatic) pancreatic cancer, survival is even shorter; typically it is measured in months. With metastatic disease (stage IV), the average survival is just over 6 months. Doctors around the world continue to study this terrible disease and strive to improve treatments, but progress has been difficult to come by.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/29/2013

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