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.
- Some people have chemotherapy before surgery to try to make the cancer smaller so that there is a better chance of removing it all.
- Chemotherapy is used after surgery to try stop the cancer coming back.
- You may have chemotherapy to slow down the growth of cancer that can’t be removed by surgery (inoperable pancreatic cancer)
- Some people have chemotherapy with radiotherapy – which is called chemoradiotherapy.
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.
- FOLFIRINOX – a combination of oxaliplatin (Eloxatin®), folinic acid (leucovirin), irinotecan and Fluorouracil (5-FU)
- Gemcitabine (Gemzar®)
- GemCap - gemcitabine and capecitabine (Xeloda®)
- FOLFOX - oxaliplatin, fluorouracil and folinic acid
- Nab-paclitaxel (Abraxane®) with gemcitabine.
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.
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.
Download or order our booklet below to read more about chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer.
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.
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
Updated August 2019
Review date August 2021
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