Chemotherapy for advanced pancreatic cancer
Chemotherapy for advanced pancreatic cancer uses drugs to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells. It is sometimes used in combination with radiation therapy (chemoradiation) to slow the growth of locally advanced cancer that has spread beyond the pancreas and cannot be removed with surgery. Chemotherapy is also used palliatively to relieve symptoms.
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Chemotherapy is usually given as a liquid through a drip inserted into a vein in the arm or as tablets you swallow. To avoid damaging the veins in your arm, it may also be given through a tube implanted into a vein (called a port, catheter, central line or vascular access device). This will stay in place until all your chemotherapy treatment is over.
You will usually receive treatment as an outpatient. Typically, you will have several courses of treatment, and there will be a rest period of a few weeks between each course. Your medical oncologist will assess how the treatment is working based on your symptoms and wellbeing, as well as scans and blood tests. They will talk to you about how long your treatment will last.
Tell your doctors about any prescription, over-the-counter or natural medicines you are taking or planning to take, as these may affect how the chemotherapy works in your body.
Chemotherapy can affect healthy cells in the body, which may cause side effects. Some people have few side effects, while others have many. The side effects will depend on the drugs used and the dose. Most side effects are temporary and can be managed, so discuss how you are feeling with your medical oncologist and chemotherapy nurses.
Side effects may include fatigue and tiredness; feeling sick (nausea); vomiting; mouth ulcers and skin rashes; hair loss; diarrhoea or constipation; flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache and muscle soreness; and poor appetite. Chemotherapy can also affect your blood count. Fewer white blood cells can mean you are more likely to catch infections. Fewer red blood cells (anaemia) can leave you weak and breathless.
For more on this, see Chemotherapy.
|Immunotherapy is a type of cancer drug treatment that uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. So far, immunotherapy has had disappointing results for pancreatic cancer, but research is continuing and there are new clinical trials underway.|
Video: What is chemotherapy?
Dr Lorraine Chantrill, Head of Department, Medical Oncology, Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, NSW; Marion Bamblett, Nurse Unit Manager, Cancer Centre, Fiona Stanley Hospital, WA; Prof Katherine Clark, Clinical Director of Palliative Care, Northern Sydney Local Health District Cancer and Palliative Care Network, and Conjoint Professor, Northern Clinical School, The University of Sydney, NSW; Lynda Dunstone, Consumer; Kate Graham, Accredited Practising Dietitian – Upper GI Dietitian, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Gina Hesselberg, Radiation Oncologist, St George Hospital Cancer Centre, NSW; Dr Marni Nenke, Endocrinologist and Mary Overton Early Career Research Fellow, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; A/Prof Nicholas O’Rourke, Head of Hepatobiliary Surgery, Royal Brisbane Hospital and The University of Queensland, QLD; Rose Rocca, Senior Clinical Dietitian – Upper GI, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Gail Smith, Consumer. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
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