Systemic Treatments of Pancreas Cancer

A cancer treatment that affects the whole body is called systemic therapy. Chemotherapy used to be the most common type of systemic therapy. Now, there are other cancer treatments like targeted therapy and immunotherapy.

Each works differently to shrink the tumor and prevent recurrence. Systemic treatments may be used alone or together.

Systemic therapies that might be used include:

  • Chemotherapy – attacks rapidly dividing cells in the body
  • Targeted therapy – focuses on specific or unique feature of cancer cells
  • Immunotherapy – uses your body’s natural defenses to find and destroy cancer cells

Often, more than one drug is used to treat cancer. This gives you a better chance of getting rid of the cancer, but it also puts healthy cells at risk for damage. Cell damage can lead to harmful side effects. In some cases, you may have to stop or delay treatment. Your doctor may change the systemic treatment approach or lower the dosage. Ask your doctor about the goal of systematic therapy for your stage of pancreatic cancer. Be clear about your wishes.

Systemic therapy is an option for all stages of pancreatic cancer. A biopsy is needed before treatment can start. Systemic therapy for pancreatic cancer can be given as a pill taken by mouth or as a liquid that is slowly injected into a vein called an infusion. You might go home with an infusion pump that will give a continuous infusion of systemic therapy over a longer period of time.

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to treat cancer. All chemotherapy drugs affect the instructions (genes) that tell cancer cells how and when to grow and divide. Chemotherapy kills fast-growing cells throughout the body, including cancer cells and normal cells.

Chemotherapy is given in cycles of treatment days followed by days of rest. Cycles vary in length depending on which drugs are used. You will have tests before starting chemotherapy and during chemotherapy to see how well the treatment is working.

Targeted therapy
Targeted therapy is a form of systemic treatment that works throughout your body. It is treated with drugs that focus on or target a specific or unique feature of cancer cells.

Targeted therapies seek out how cancer cells grow, divide, and move in the body.

These drugs stop the action of molecules that help cancer cells grow. As a result, targeted therapies are less likely to damage healthy cells or cause side effects. Targeted therapies might be in pill form or given through a vein or IV (intravenous). Targeted therapy can be given alone or with other types of treatment.

The immune system is the body’s natural defense against infection. and disease. It is a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs. The immune system includes many chemicals and proteins. These chemicals and proteins are made naturally in your body.

Immunotherapy is a type of systemic treatment that increases the activity of your immune system. By doing so, it improves your body’s ability to find and destroy cancer cells.

Immunotherapy can be given alone or with other types of treatment. It is usually given as an infusion.

Treatment that combines chemotherapy with radiation therapy is called chemoradiation. Chemotherapy may improve how well radiation works, and that is why they are sometimes used together. It is a combination of systemic and local therapies.

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