What is Metastatic Pancreatic Cancer?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 24 October 2018
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Metastatic pancreatic cancer is a cancer of the pancreas that invades neighboring structures in the body, usually the surrounding lymph nodes and the liver. It is more difficult to treat than an isolated case of pancreatic cancer, as the cancer is more aggressive and more advanced. Treatment options vary, depending on where the cancer has spread and the patient's overall physical condition. Care is usually supervised by an oncologist, a medical specialist who focuses on cancer care.

Cancer in the pancreas can invade many abdominal organs and may reach as far as the lungs in some cases. It has also been known to metastasize to the skin, where it results in the formation of very painful nodules. In rare cases, it spreads to the brain and bones, although the incidence of this type of metastatic pancreatic cancer is very unusual. Symptoms of the cancer can include fatigue, weight loss, nausea, and decrease in appetite.

Patients can be diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer after a medical imaging study reveals growths in or around the pancreas, as well as in neighboring areas of the body. Biopsy samples can be taken in surgery or with fine needle aspiration for examination in a lab. The pathologist will be able to connect the samples with the original cancer, and since cancers are named for their origins, rather than their location, the cancer will be called “pancreatic cancer” no matter where the sample is from.


In the process of biopsy, the pathologist will determine the type of cells involved and will provide information about the stage of the cancer. Treatments for metastatic pancreatic cancer can include surgery to remove the initial tumor, as well as any accessible metastatic growths, along with chemotherapy and radiation to kill cancer cells after the surgery. Even with these treatments, the cancer can recur and the patient may die when it returns. Survival rates after metastatic pancreatic cancer are variable because it can take a number of forms.

Patients diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer should discuss the specifics of the case with their physicians to get advice and information tailored to their situations. A physician with extended experience in the treatment of such cancers may have more to offer than a general oncologist. Patients can get a complete list of treatment options, risks, benefits, and prognoses from their physicians to assist them in the process of making an informed choice about the best approach for their cancer.



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