Understanding Cancer

Pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer begins in the tissue of your pancreas, which is an organ that lies behind the lower part of your stomach. Your pancreas secretes enzymes and hormones that are important for digestion - it breaks down sugar and other nutrients, helping you absorb them and controlling your blood sugar levels.

What to expect before, during, and after radiotherapy treatment:

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The most common type of pancreatic cancer is adenocarcinoma. This accounts for 95% of all cases. A few cancers originate in pancreas cells that make hormones. These are called neuroendocrine tumours.

Typically cancer of the pancreas spreads quickly, which can make it difficult to treat.

In more detail

Most commonly, pancreatic tumours begin in the organ’s lining and are known as exocrine pancreatic tumours, or adenocarcinoma. These tumours account for 95% of all cases.

There are two common types of exocrine pancreatic tumours. Those that start in the ducts of the pancreas are called ductal adenocarcinoma. Much less commonly, a tumour can begin in the acini, which are parts of the pancreas that connect to the ducts. These are called acinar adenocarcinoma.

Rarer exocrine pancreatic tumours include: acinar cell carcinoma, adenosquamous carcinoma, colloid carcinoma, giant cell tumour, hepatoid carcinoma, mucinous cystic neoplasms, pancreatoblastoma, serous cystdenoma, signet ring cell carcinoma, solid and pseudopapillary tumours, squamous cell carcinoma, and undifferentiated carcinoma.

Making up the remaining 5% of pancreatic cancer are tumours that originate in the islet cells of the pancreas, called Islet cell carcinoma or neuroendocrine tumours. Islet cells make hormones like gastrin, insulin, and glucagon. Tumours that cause the islet cells to overproduce these hormones are known as functional tumours. They can cause symptoms such as low blood sugar, diabetes, skin rashes, gallstones, stomach ulcers and diarrhoea. Tumours that do not affect the islet cells hormone production are called “non-functional” and most are malignant.

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The Patient Pathway

First Specialist Appointment

At the first specialist appointment you will meet with your specialist radiation oncologist (RO) to discuss the proposed radiotherapy treatment approach and answer any questions and concerns you may have. Click read more to learn more and download information by treatment site e.g. breast, prostate.


At the orientation appointment a patient care specialist (nurse or radiation therapist) will explain the procedures in more detail and answer any concerns that you might have about ARO and your treatment. Click read more to learn more and download information by treatment site e.g. breast, prostate.


Before starting treatment, you will attend a simulation appointment to determine the optimal body position for receiving treatment and provide a detailed picture of the area to be treated.

First Day of Treatment

Please arrive 10-15 minutes before your allocated treatment time so we can greet you and allow you time to get changed for your treatment. Please bring an extra layer of clothing (e.g. cardigan or jacket) should you feel cold while you wait in the treatment reception area. Please report to the ARO reception desk. For free parking please refer to the information below. See location and parking for more information.

During Treatment

Weekly reviews with your radiation oncologist or one of our patient care team will be conducted to monitor any side effects and provide on-going support and advice as required. Click read more to learn more and download information by treatment site e.g. breast, prostate.

Last Week of Treatment

An appointment will be scheduled for you to meet with a member of our patient care team to answer any questions and to ensure appropriate care is organised after your last treatment visit. This may include regular monitoring of blood results, appointments for dressings and management of side effects.

After Treatment

Usually 2-6 weeks after your last treatment visit you will meet with your radiation oncologist or the doctor that referred you to ARO. Your GP will also be sent a report about your treatment and will continue to provide for your general health needs. 

You are welcome to contact our patient care team to answer questions or concerns that you may have about your treatment or possible side effects up to 2 weeks following your last treatment visit.  Please phone our nurses on 09 623 6585, email aronurses@aro.co.nz or make an appointment during business hours. 

Should you require support after 2 weeks, please contact the ARO Specialist Centre on phone 09 623 6587 or email specialistcentre@aro.co.nz. For all other health concerns, please contact your GP, usual healthcare provider or local emergency facility. Click read more to learn more and download information by treatment site e.g. breast, prostate. This includes information on possible side effects and self care advice by treatment site.