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Chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer

Chemotherapy is one of the main treatments for pancreatic cancer.

If you are having chemotherapy, or have had chemotherapy in the last three months, you may be more at risk of becoming seriously ill if you get the coronavirus infection (COVID-19). This is because chemotherapy increases your risk of infections. Read our blog for more information about how to reduce your risk of coronavirus and what to do if you are worried.

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. The type of chemotherapy you will have depends on whether the cancer has spread, and how good your health is.

Chemotherapy can be used in different ways.

How is chemotherapy used?

There are different chemotherapy drugs that can be used to treat pancreatic cancer. You may have one chemotherapy drug on its own, or two or three drugs together. This will depend on how fit and well you are.

These are the chemotherapy drugs used for pancreatic cancer, and how they are used together. The brand name of each drug is in brackets.

What will my chemotherapy treatment be like?

You will normally need to have more than one lot of chemotherapy. Each round of chemotherapy is called a cycle. This means you will have one or more treatment sessions and then a gap before the next lot of treatment starts. The gap is to let your body rest.

You will have check-ups and tests before each cycle starts to make sure it’s safe to have the next one. Chemotherapy may be given as an injection, through a drip, as tablets, or as a mix of these.

After you finish your chemotherapy, you will have a check-up with your cancer doctor. You may have some tests and the doctor will check that any side effects of the chemotherapy are getting better.

What are the side effects of chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy can cause side effects, but these affect people in different ways. Your chemotherapy team should give you information about any possible side effects. There are treatments to help with side effects.  

Having chemotherapy can mean that you are more likely to get an infection. One way of telling that you have an infection is if you have a high temperature. A temperature of 37.5°C or 38°C is high if you are having chemotherapy. An infection is an emergency if you are having chemotherapy and needs treating straight away. Your doctor should give you more advice about this.

Some people may feel or be sick when they are having chemotherapy and not feel like eating. Some people have runny poo (diarrhoea). You may also feel very tired (fatigue).  

Download or order our booklet below to read more about chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer.

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Where can I get more information and help?

Chemotherapy can affect your feelings as well as your body. But there is support to help. Speak to your doctor or nurse about any questions or worries you may have. You can also speak to our nurses on our free Support Line or read our information on coping with chemotherapy.

Questions to ask your doctor or nurse

You might want to write down any questions you have for your doctor or nurse to take with you so that you don’t forget to ask them. You may also like to take someone with you when you see your doctor. They can write down the answers to any questions you have.

  • How will chemotherapy help me?
  • Which chemotherapy drugs would be best for me?
  • How long will I have chemotherapy for?
  • What are the side effects, and how long will they last?
  • Is there any medicine or advice to help me deal with side effects?
  • Do I need to be referred to a specialist dietitian during my treatment?
  • Are there any clinical trials that I can take part in?
  • How often will I have check-ups once my chemotherapy has finished?
  • What happens if my chemotherapy doesn’t work?
  • What support can I get?

Read more information on chemotherapy 

Chemotherapy before and after surgery to remove the cancer.

Chemotherapy to treat pancreatic cancer that can't be removed with surgery (inoperable).

Advantages and disadvantages of chemotherapy.

Main drugs for pancreatic cancer.

How is chemotherapy given?

How does chemotherapy affect the blood?

Side effects of chemotherapy.

How does chemotherapy affect my diet?

What happens after my chemotherapy finishes?

Updated August 2019

Review date August 2021

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Email us for references to the sources of information used to write this fact sheet.