Chemotherapy for advanced pancreatic cancer

Chemotherapy for advanced pancreatic cancer uses drugs to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells.

Chemotherapy is sometimes used in combination with radiotherapy (chemoradiation) to treat locally advanced cancers, i.e. cancer that has spread beyond the pancreas and cannot be removed with surgery.

If you have advanced pancreatic cancer, chemotherapy may be given as palliative treatment to relieve symptoms and improve survival.

Chemotherapy is not commonly used to treat pancreatic NETs.

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How chemotherapy is given

You will probably receive chemotherapy by injection into a vein (intravenously) at treatment sessions over several weeks.

In most cases you will receive the treatment as an outpatient. Most people have up to six courses of treatment. After each treatment session, you will have a break or rest period of 1–3 weeks at home.

Your medical team will talk to you about how they will assess if the treatment has worked.

Tell your doctors about any prescription, over-the-counter or natural medicines you’re taking or planning to take, as these may affect how the chemotherapy works in your body. Find out more about natural medicines and other complementary therapies, or call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for a free copy of the Understanding Complementary Therapies booklet.

Side effects of chemotherapy

Chemotherapy affects fast-growing cells in the body, such as the white blood cells (which fight infections), hair cells and the cells lining the mouth and digestive system.

Chemotherapy can cause temporary side effects, which may include:

  • fatigue and tiredness
  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • a low red blood cell count (anaemia), causing weakness and breathlessness
  • a low white blood cell count, causing poor resistance to infection
  • mouth ulcers
  • diarrhoea
  • flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache and muscle soreness
  • poor appetite
  • skin rashes.

You may have none or only some of the above side effects.

Discuss how you are feeling with your medical oncologist, as there are ways to reduce or manage your side effects.

For more information about chemotherapy, call the Cancer Council 13 11 20 for a free copy of the Understanding Chemotherapy booklet, or download one from this page.


This information was last reviewed in February 2016.
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