Pancreatic cancer represents the 11th most common cancer in Australia and the 6th most common cause of cancer-related death. There are some known risk factors for pancreatic cancer such as family history, smoking and alcohol, but no clearly identified cause. The most common type of pancreatic cancer is Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma (PDAC) which makes up for 85% of cases. The remaining 15% of cases are a variety of other subtypes of cancers.
Pancreatic cancer can present in a number of different ways. It may present with vague abdominal symptoms such as bloating and discomfort. Pancreatic cancer may also present with pain, jaundice (turning yellow) or even diabetes. The diagnosis is generally made from the patients history, blood tests and specialised imaging such as CT or MRI scans of the pancreas. A biopsy is often required and may be performed by Endoscopic Ultrasound (EUS) or Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangio-Pancreatography (ERCP).
The mainstay of treatment for pancreatic cancer is surgery. There are two main operations that are performed for pancreatic cancer, the most common is a Pancreaticoduodenectomy (Whipple procedure) and the alternative is a Distal Pancreatectomy.
Prior to any surgery, your surgeon will discuss the treatment plan with a group of cancer specialists in a multi-disciplinary team meeting. These meetings discuss the role of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery and other management options in the treatment of any individual patient. Chemotherapy may play a role prior to, after or both before and after surgery, with the approach tailored to the individual. Increasingly chemotherapy (and occasionally radiotherapy) is being used prior to surgery. This is referred to as neoadjuvant treatment.