Chemotherapy (popularly called chemo) could be effective for pancreatic cancer because it may prolong lifespan. Pancreatic cancer is fast progressing. While chemotherapy may not cure cancer, it along with radiation therapy may improve the chances of survival and result in an improved quality of life.
For patients who have been diagnosed with an earlier stage of pancreatic cancer, the average survival time is three to three and a half years long. Chemotherapy has helped some of these patients, as well as those with advanced-stage cancer (whose median survival is three and a half months), to live for 9 to 12 years. The term “median survival” stands for the duration for which half of the people diagnosed with cancer have survived.
Advances in chemotherapy and cancer tests can prolong the lifespan of almost one-third of patients with tumors deemed unfit for surgery. New chemo regimens have given a ray of hope for patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer.
A study observed 194 patients at the Mayo Clinic for over seven years who received chemo followed by radiation and surgery. About half of these patients were considered unfit for surgery. The researchers concluded that chemotherapy can extend the survival of such patients.
When do you need chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer?
Chemotherapy can be used before surgery (neoadjuvant treatment) or after surgery (adjuvant treatment).
Neoadjuvant treatment of chemotherapy may be used for a tumor that:
- Can be removed from the organ but is very large to entirely remove it.
- Has many nearby large lymph nodes.
- Is causing significant pain.
Chemotherapy given alone or along with radiation (chemoradiation) may help shrink the tumor and make it easier to remove all cancer at the time of surgery.
Even after undergoing surgery to remove the tumor, cancer can still return. Giving chemotherapy either alone or as chemoradiation after surgery might help some patients live longer by destroying the micrometastasis. The most commonly used chemo drugs include gemcitabine (Gemzar) or 5-fluorouracil.
Treating metastatic cancer
Surgery cannot be considered in metastatic cancers because it could be risky in patients with compromised organ functions. Chemotherapy is typically the main treatment for these cancers. It can sometimes shrink or slow the progression of cancer temporarily, which might help people live longer.
Can you refuse chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer?
A person may decide to stop chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer or refuse it entirely because of the severe side effects that come with it. However, people should accept that this choice will reduce their chances of living longer. Discuss with your oncologist to consider the pros and cons in the case of advanced cancer.
In the advanced stage of pancreatic cancer, people may instead enroll in a hospice or palliative care program, which is available in many hospitals. Palliative care is a special kind of treatment reserved for people with a terminal illness, such as the last stages of pancreatic cancer. It aims to alleviate the symptoms, as well as provide comfort and better quality of life.
Alternative practices, such as yoga and meditation, help people affected with cancer or other serious illnesses. These make them feel relaxed and enable them to take control of their situation. They can register for programs that teach how to do them effectively.
It is normal to feel isolated when a person learns of their diagnosis. To get rid of the feeling, consider joining a cancer support group dedicated to pancreatic cancer. Options are plenty. People may look for one on the websites of organizations, such as the American Cancer Society, or in their locality. Sharing your feelings and journey with people who suffer from the same condition can help you feel at peace.
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Johns Hopkins Medicine. Pancreatic Cancer Prognosis. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/pancreatic-cancer/pancreatic-cancer-prognosis
Pancreatica. Pancreatic Cancer Prognosis & Survival. https://pancreatica.org/pancreatic-cancer/pancreatic-cancer-prognosis/