Radiation therapy for advanced pancreatic cancer
Also known as radiotherapy, radiation therapy uses a controlled dose of radiation to kill cancer cells or injure them so they cannot multiply. The radiation is usually in the form of focused x-ray beams targeted at the cancer. Treatment is painless and carefully planned to do as little harm as possible to healthy body tissue near the cancer.
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For locally advanced pancreatic cancer, radiation therapy is usually given with chemotherapy (chemoradiation). The chemotherapy drugs make the cancer cells more sensitive to radiation therapy. Chemoradiation may also be used before or after surgery for early pancreatic cancer.
Radiation therapy is delivered over a number of treatments known as fractions. Each fraction delivers a small dose of radiation that adds up to the total treatment dose. You will usually have treatment as an outpatient once a day, Monday to Friday, for up to five or six weeks. Each session takes 10–15 minutes. You will lie on a table under a machine that delivers radiation to the affected parts of your body. Your radiation oncologist will advise you about your treatment schedule.
Radiation therapy may also be used on its own over shorter periods to relieve symptoms such as pain caused by tumours pressing on a nerve or another organ.
Radiation therapy can cause both short-term side effects and late 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; and skin irritation. Late side effects are uncommon, but may include damage to the liver, kidneys, stomach or small intestine. Talk to your radiation oncologist or radiation oncology nurse about ways to manage these side effects.
For more on this, see Radiation therapy.
|A newer radiation technique called stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) delivers a higher dose of radiation per treatment session over a shorter period of time. SBRT is not currently standard practice for pancreatic cancer but is being investigated in clinical trials. SBRT may be a treatment option at some cancer centres.|
Video: What is radiation therapy?
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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