Radiation therapy for advanced pancreatic cancer

Also known as radiotherapy, radiation therapy uses radiation to kill cancer cells or injure them so they cannot multiply. The radiation is usually in the form of x-rays and it can be targeted at the cancer.

Treatment is painless and planned to do as little harm as possible to healthy body tissue.

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Having radiation therapy

If you need radiation therapy, you will see a radiation oncologist.

The treatment is usually given Monday to Friday, for up to five or six weeks, and each session takes 10–15 minutes.

With locally advanced pancreatic cancer, radiation therapy is usually given with chemotherapy (chemoradiation). Chemoradiation may also be used before or after surgery for early pancreatic cancer.

Radiation therapy may be used on its own over shorter periods to relieve symptoms such as pain caused by tumours pressing on a nerve or another organ.

Side effects of radiation therapy

Radiation therapy can cause temporary side effects, which are mainly related to the area treated. For pancreatic cancer, the treatment is targeted at the abdomen.

Side effects may include:

  • tiredness
  • nausea and vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • poor appetite
  • skin irritation.

Talk to your doctor or radiation oncology nurse about managing these side effects.

For more on this, call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or see Radiation therapy.

Video: What is radiation therapy?

Watch this short video to learn more about radiation therapy.

This information was last reviewed in February 2018
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