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Doctor explaining pancreatic cancer options

There are many labels, stages and tumor grades a physician can assign to pancreatic cancer to describe its extent and help determine a prognosis. As a patient, you may hear the terms "resectable" or "unresectable" used to describe your cancer. To help clear up any confusion, here is a brief overview of what these terms mean.

Resectable pancreatic cancer

If a tumor is “resectable,” it simply means that it is able to be removed with surgery. A physician may determine that pancreatic cancer is resectable if it is contained within the pancreas or surrounding area and not extending intro nearby blood vessels. Patients with resectable pancreatic cancer are typically in the earliest stages of the disease (stage 1A, 1B or 2A).

Physicians may also label pancreatic cancer as "borderline resectable." This means the cancer may have spread to nearby blood vessels, but is still believed to be surgically removable. Usually, these patients are treated with chemotherapy and radiation to shrink the tumor before the surgery." 

Unresectable pancreatic cancer

Unresectable pancreatic cancer cannot be entirely removed through surgery. The stage and extent of this type of cancer can vary considerably. Some cases of unresectable pancreatic cancer are confined to the pancreas and nearby structures, but still cannot be removed entirely because the tumors have reached the surrounding blood vessels. This is known as “locally advanced” cancer. In other cases, the cancer may have spread (metastasized) to distant areas of the body. While not curative, surgery may still be performed to help relieve symptoms.

If you have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, you may be feeling overwhelmed by medical terminology or confused about your next steps. At Moffitt Cancer Center, we understand the unique challenges that pancreatic cancer patients face. We provide comprehensive treatment and supportive care services to help our patients achieve the best possible outcomes and enhanced quality of life. Some of our advanced treatment options include minimally invasive surgery, targeted radiation therapy and breakthrough clinical trials.

Medically reviewed by Tiago Biachi, MD, PhD, medical oncologist, Gastrointestinal Oncology Program

To speak with a Moffitt physician about your pancreatic cancer treatment options, submit a new patient registration form online or call 1-888-663-3488.