Pancreatic cancer treatment and how to pay for it

Pancreatic cancer treatment and how to pay for it

Early detection and treatment of pancreatic cancer go hand in hand with each other. The biggest hopes for improvement in survival rates depend in the area of early detection, which has up to now been the main hurdle to overcome in the diagnosis and treatment of pancreatic cancer in Australia. Currently, there are a few treatment options available in Australia for pancreatic cancer patients. These options vary between patient to patient due to a number of factors including the stage of the cancer, age and overall health of the patient and whether the patient opts for public or private health care. Below are the main types of treatments available for patients.

Surgical Treatment

Surgery remains to be the main treatment to cure Australians with pancreatic cancer. Surgery comprises the removal of the cancer and the surrounding lymph nodes. This mode of treatment is an alternative for early stages of pancreatic cancer, when the cancer spread has not reached other distant organs, including the liver and the lungs, and the cancer does not involve major blood vessels such as the arteries. The doctor will review images of the cancer from a high quality multi-detector CT scan or any other imaging procedure, to determine whether the tumour can be removed.

If the cancer can be detached, it is referred to as resectable. Approximately 20% of Australian patients with pancreatic cancer have tumours that are resectable. Among other patients, surgery may be necessary when relieving blockages of the bile duct or stomach, which is known as palliative bypass procedure. The kind of surgery chosen to remove pancreatic cancer is dependent on the location of the tumour in the pancreas. These surgical procedures include the following: total pancreatectomy, palliative bypass, distal Pancreatectomy, and Whipple procedure.

Whipple procedure

This is the most popular surgery performed for patients with pancreatic cancer in Australia. It is carried out for surgical treatment of cancer located at the head of the pancreas. A large number of pancreatic cancers are sited in this location. During the Whipple operation, the surgeon is known to remove the cancer within the pancreas along with its adjacent lymph nodes.

Presently, most centres in Australia practice the pylorus-preserving Whipple procedure, in which the surgeon removes: head of the pancreas, lymph nodes draining that part of the pancreas, part of the bile duct, gall bladder, and most of the duodenum. In the process, the stomach and the first part of the duodenum are saved.

Other surgeons may conduct a classic Whipple procedure, which involves the steps indicated above along with the removal of the entire duodenum and a small part of the stomach. Regardless of the type of Whipple procedure conducted, the aim is to remove the entire tumour. Once the tumour is removed the surgeon thereafter reconnects the remaining pancreas, bile duct, and stomach, in classic Whipple or the remaining part of the duodenum, in pylorus-preserving Whipple to the small intestine.

Alternative Treatments

Presently, surgical resection stands to be the main curative treatment for pancreatic adenocarcinoma. In case of Australian patients who cannot undergo surgical resection and those patients who are not medically fit to endure major pancreatic surgery, substitute treatments including image guided stereo-tactic radio-surgical system, systemic chemotherapy, surgical bypass, chemo-radiotherapy, ablative therapies, and endoscopic biliary and gastrointestinal stenting are used. These are known to be palliative processes that can advance the worth of life of Australians with pancreatic cancer by alleviating tumour-related symptoms, such as pain.

How to pay for pancreatic cancer treatment

Undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer is often covered by the medicare system in Australia. This means, Australian patients have the ability to access free medical treatment and care at their local hospital if you have medicare. Patients who are not in this system will have to pay out of pocket costs as a result. This includes the hospital stay for the duration of your surgery and recovery, the surgery itself and any medication or drugs that were also used in the process. It is important to note that selection of which surgeon or hospital will not be permitted. In the medicare system, patients will also be on a waiting list, which can often be a stressful experience and affect the patient’s overall health and well-being.

Patients can also look into their health insurance policy to see if the type of pancreatic cancer treatment is insured by the insurance company. You may need to call to find out exactly what is covered and any limitations that may be in condition to your treatment. This may be ideal for patients looking a private health care as an alternative.

Australian families need to consider the additional costs that would not typically be covered by any program, insurance policy or service. This includes transportation cost, food, loss of income or work as well as any other costs like chile day care that may be incurred due to your personal circumstances of receiving treatment. There are a number of cancer organisations in Australia that can offer free transport services for example. This an help reduce the financial burden off patients and their family.

Alternatively, patients and their loved ones can reach out to friends, family and extended networks (community, workplace, clubs and schools) to raise funds for the added costs. Many families choose this route as there are no major paperwork or long periods of waiting time involved. A loved one can simply sign up and create a fundraiser free of charge online at PeoplePledge and start raising funds on the same day.


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