Understanding Pancreatic Cancer: Explore Your Options

If you’ve been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, it’s important to explore all options related to pancreatic cancer treatment. Below, learn what’s next, what questions to ask the doctor, and what treatments are available.

Finding an Oncologist                             

The first step on the pancreatic cancer treatment journey is to find an oncologist (medical or surgical) who inspires trust. It may seem overwhelming to choose an oncologist. First, start with referrals from your primary care physician, specialist, or insurance carrier. Talk to family and friends who may have recommendations.  

Here are some things to consider when choosing an oncologist:

  • Is the oncologist board certified?
  • How much experience does he or she have in treating pancreatic cancer?
  • Do you feel comfortable talking with this doctor? Does he or she listen well?
  • Is the staff compassionate? Is the environment a good one or do you feel rushed?
  • What hospital(s) does this oncologist see patients in?
  • What are the office hours?
  • What if you have an emergency? Can you call?
  • Can this doctor be contacted after hours?

You will be spending a lot of time with the oncologist and staff nurses and technicians, so it’s important to feel comfortable with them. 

As you and your doctor explore the treatment options open to you, make sure you find out the answers to the following:

  • What are the chances my cancer will come back after this treatment?
  • What do we do if the cancer comes back or the treatment doesn’t work?
  • Will I lose my hair?
  • Will it hurt?
  • Will there be scars? 

Choosing a Cancer Center

Choosing where to receive treatment is just as important as selecting an oncologist. It’s good to know the differences between hospitals. Here are some guidelines:

  • Academic cancer centers: These are affiliated with medical schools. At these locations, high priority is put on research. They are usually located in large cities.
  • Community cancer centers: The main focus is on patient care.
  • Cancer centers: These are noted for a high quality of science and research.

Some questions to ask before choosing where to get your treatment include:

  • Volume: How many pancreatic cancer surgeries does the surgeon do annually?
  • Travel: How far do you want to travel? Would there be extra costs?
  • Cost: Is the hospital covered by your insurance plan?
  • Accreditations: What accreditations does the hospital hold? 

Treatment Options

It’s helpful to understand the possible treatments for pancreatic cancer. Following are overviews of the most common treatments. Reading these should help you know what to expect, what the potential side effects are, and what the advantages are to each.  

Click on the treatment type to read more: 

Specific Questions To Ask Your Doctor

  • Has my cancer spread beyond the pancreas?
  • What is the stage of my pancreatic cancer?
  • What treatment choices do I have?
  • Which treatment do you recommend and why?
  • What is the goal of the treatment you recommend?
  • What risks or side effects are there for this treatment?
  • How would treatment affect my daily life?
  • How is treatment likely to help in my case?
  • How much experience do you have with this type of treatment?How experienced is the hospital in treating people with this cancer?
  • Should I be referred to a cancer center for treatment?
  • Should I think about taking part in a clinical trial?
  • Based on what you've learned about my cancer, what is my prognosis?
  • What should I do to be ready for treatment?

When you first meet with your doctor, it can be helpful to bring someone else with you. That way, there’s someone else to hear what is said and to ask questions. Here are some other tips for talking with your doctor:

  • Write out your questions ahead of time.
  • Write down the answers your doctor gives you.
  • If you don’t understand something, ask your doctor to say it in a different way. It’s important that you understand, and you have a right to know. 

Next: After treatment ends, what kind of follow-up care will I need?  

Back to “Understanding Pancreatic Cancer: An Introduction”