Chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer
You may have chemotherapy after an operation to remove the cancer. This aims to reduce the chance of the cancer coming back. It is called adjuvant chemotherapy.
The chemotherapy will usually start within 3 months of the operation and will last about 6 months.
The most commonly used chemotherapy drugs are:
- gemcitabine (Gemzar®) which he nurse will give you as drip into a vein
- capecitabine (Xeloda®) which you take as tablets.
You may have these together (called GemCap) or separately. Another drug you may have is fluorouracil (5FU).
Sometimes chemotherapy is used to shrink a cancer before surgery (called neoadjuvant chemotherapy). If you have chemotherapy with radiotherapy before surgery, it is called neoadjuvant chemoradiation. This would usually be part of a cancer research trial. Your doctor or specialist nurse can give you more information.
When surgery is not possible you may have chemotherapy. The aim is usually to shrink the cancer, relieve symptoms and help you to live for longer. This is called palliative chemotherapy. You may have treatment with a single chemotherapy drug. Or you may have 2 or 3 combined.
Common treatments are:
- gemcitabine on its own
- gemcitabine and capecitabine (GemCap)
- gemcitabine and nab-paclitaxel (Abraxane®)
- a combination of drugs called FOLFIRINOX.
You and your doctor can talk about the type of chemotherapy that is most suitable for you. For example, FOLFIRINOX is a combination of three drugs and can cause more side effects.
If you are having a combination of drugs rather than a single drug you may have more side effects. Your doctor or nurse will explain the side effects you are most likely to have and how they can be controlled.
Side effects will usually improve after treatment finishes. We have more information about chemotherapy and its side effects.
Cancer research trials are also looking at treatments called targeted therapies and immunotherapy. Targeted therapy drugs interfere with the way cancer cells grow. Immunotherapy tries to trigger the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells. The body’s immune system fights infection and disease.
Cancer research trials aim to improve the results of treatment for pancreatic cancer.
Below is a sample of the sources used in our pancreatic cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
British Society of Gastroenterology. Guidelines for the management of patients with pancreatic cancer peri-ampullary and ampullary carcinomas. 2005.
European Society for Medial Oncology. Cancer of the pancreas: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of Oncology, 2015. 26 (Supplement 5): v56 to v68.
Fernandez-del Castillo. Clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and staging of exocrine pancreatic cancer. UpToDate online. Jan 2018.
Fernandez-del Castillo C, et al. Supportive care of the patient with locally advanced or metastatic exocrine pancreatic cancer. UpToDate online. Feb 2017.
Winter JM, et al. Cancer of the pancreas, DeVita Hellman and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (10th edition). Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. 2016.
This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.
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