What is pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer happens when normal cells in the pancreas change into abnormal cells and grow out of control. The pancreas is an organ that makes hormones and juices that help the body break down food.
Pancreatic cancer can sometimes be cured with treatment. This is most likely in people whose cancer is found at an early stage. Even if your pancreatic cancer cannot be cured, your doctor can treat your symptoms. Many people are very worried about having cancer pain. Although pain is common in pancreatic cancer, it can be kept under control in nearly everyone. If you have any pain, the sooner it is treated the more easily it can be brought under control.

Opioid painkillers

There are many different painkillers. The most common type used in cancer care are morphine based (opioid) medicines. Used properly, morphine type drugs do not usually have too many bad side effects. Painkillers can be given in different ways, including

Drugs to treat nerve pain

Many people with pancreatic cancer have nerve pain. This is because the tumour may put constant pressure on large groups of nerves as it grows. Drugs that may be helpful in treating this sort of pain include amitriptyline and gabapentin.

Chemotherapy or radiotherapy to help pain control

Cancer treatment can help to control pain. Your pancreatic tumour may be pressing on a nerve or another organ and causing pain. If treatment can shrink the tumour, pressure on the nerve will be eased and you will have less pain. You may be able to cut down on your painkillers after chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatment.

Nerve blocks

If you have pain that is very difficult to treat, your doctor may suggest a nerve block. This is a way of killing or deadening a nerve to stop it causing pain. There are different types of nerve block, named after the nerves that are treated. There are not usually many side effects to nerve blocks. You may get low blood pressure for days or weeks afterwards. This may make you light headed if you stand up too quickly. This problem usually rights itself in time. The coeliac plexus is a complicated web of nerves at the back of the abdomen. It can cause persistent pain in people with pancreatic cancer. In a coeliac plexus nerve block, the doctor injects alcohol into the coeliac plexus to deaden the nerves under X-ray guidance.