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Chemotherapy after surgery to remove pancreatic cancer

If you have had surgery to completely remove your pancreatic cancer your oncologist will discuss with you the benefit of having chemotherapy afterwards. This form of chemotherapy is called adjuvant chemotherapy. The aim is to try to reduce the chances of the pancreatic cancer coming back.

The drug most often used after surgery to remove pancreatic cancer is gemcitabine. Capecitabine may also be used. Occassionally, 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) may be an alternative treatment option.

Clinical trials are looking at the best ways to use these drugs after surgery. For example, one recent trial called ESPAC-4 compared standard gemcitabine chemotherapy after surgery with a combination of gemcitabine and capecitabine (GemCap) – the results were announced in June 2016. 

When will I start chemotherapy? 

You will need to have recovered well from your operation before starting chemotherapy treatment.

  • You need to have recovered from any complications from your surgery, such as chest infections or bleeding.
  • Your wound should have healed, with no signs of infection, such as if the wound becomes sore, red or inflamed, or is oozing.
  • You should be able to eat and drink well, and your bowels should be working normally.
  • You need to be back to a reasonable level of normal activity and fitness.

Chemotherapy will usually start within 12 weeks of surgery. It will be planned to be given for six months.

Published March 2015

Review date March 2017

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