- How is pancreatic cancer treated?
- Surgery for pancreatic cancer
- Ablation or embolization treatments for pancreatic cancer
- Radiation therapy for pancreatic cancer
- Chemotherapy and other drugs for pancreatic cancer
- Pain control in pancreatic cancer
- Clinical trials for pancreatic cancer
- Complementary and alternative therapies for pancreatic cancer
- Treating pancreatic cancer by stage
- More treatment information for pancreatic cancer
Ablation or embolization treatments for pancreatic cancer
These treatments are different ways of destroying tumors, rather than removing them with surgery. They can sometimes be used to help treat pancreatic cancer that has spread to other sites, especially the liver. But these treatments are very unlikely to cure cancers on their own. They are more likely to be used to help prevent or relieve cancer symptoms, and are often used along with other types of treatment.
- Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (NETs): When these tumors have spread to other sites, these treatments can often improve symptoms and help people live longer.
- Exocrine pancreas cancers: These treatments are used much less often for exocrine cancers (which account for most pancreatic cancers), but they might sometimes be used to treat areas of spread when there are only a few of them.
Ablation refers to treatments that destroy tumors, usually with extreme heat or cold. This type of treatment typically does not require a hospital stay. There are different kinds of ablative treatments:
Radiofrequency ablation (RFA): This procedure uses high-energy radio waves for treatment. The doctor inserts a thin, needle-like probe into the tumor. A high-frequency current is then passed through the tip of the probe, which heats the tumor and destroys the cancer cells. This treatment is used mainly for small tumors.
Microwave thermotherapy: This procedure is similar to RFA, except microwaves are used to heat and destroy the abnormal tissue.
Cryosurgery (cryoablation): This procedure destroys a tumor by freezing it using a thin metal probe. The probe is guided into the tumor, and very cold gasses are passed through the probe to freeze the tumor, killing the cancer cells. This method can be used to treat larger tumors than the other ablation techniques, but it sometimes requires general anesthesia (where you are deeply asleep and not able to feel pain).
Side effects of ablation treatments: Possible side effects after ablation therapy include abdominal pain, infection, and bleeding inside the body. Serious complications are uncommon, but they are possible.
During embolization, the doctor injects substances into an artery to try to block the blood flow to cancer cells, causing them to die. This can sometimes be used for tumors that are too large to be treated with ablation. This type of treatment typically does not require a hospital stay.
There are 3 main types of embolization:
Arterial embolization: This is also known as trans-arterial embolization (or TAE). In this procedure a catheter (a thin, flexible tube) is put into an artery through a small cut in the inner thigh and threaded up into the artery feeding the tumor. A dye is usually injected into the blood at this time to help the doctor monitor the path of the catheter with angiography, a special type of x-ray. Once the catheter is in place, small particles are injected into the artery to plug it up.
Chemoembolization: This approach, also known as trans-arterial chemoembolization (or TACE) combines embolization with chemotherapy. Most often, this is done by using tiny beads that give off a chemotherapy drug for the embolization. TACE can also be done by giving chemotherapy through the catheter directly into the artery, then plugging up the artery.
Radioembolization: This technique combines embolization with radiation therapy. In the United States, this is done by injecting small radioactive beads (called microspheres) into the artery. Once infused, the beads lodge in the blood vessels near the tumor, where they give off small amounts of radiation to the tumor site for several days. The radiation travels a very short distance, so its effects are limited mainly to the tumor.
Side effects of embolization: Possible complications after embolization include abdominal pain, fever, nausea, infection, and blood clots in nearby blood vessels. Serious complications are not common, but they can happen.
Last Medical Review: 06/11/2014
Last Revised: 01/09/2015