Radiotherapy for pancreatic cancer
Radiotherapy uses high energy x-rays (radiation) to destroy cancer cells. You may have radiotherapy on its own, or in combination with chemotherapy (chemoradiotherapy).
It may be a treatment option for you if you have locally advanced pancreatic cancer, as it can help control the cancer and slow down its growth. More rarely, you may be offered radiotherapy or chemoradiotherapy before surgery to try and make surgery a possibility.
Radiotherapy or chemoradiotherapy may be suitable for some people with borderline resectable pancreatic cancer. The aim is to improve the chances of successfully removing the cancer with surgery.
If you have advanced pancreatic cancer, you may be able to have radiotherapy to help control symptoms such as pain.
Radiotherapy and chemoradiotherapy can cause some short and longer term side effects such as fatigue (extreme tiredness), feeling and being sick (nausea and vomiting), diarrhoea and, more rarely, skin changes. If you have chemoradiotherapy, you may also get side effects from the chemotherapy.
Your medical team will carefully plan your treatment to reduce the risk of any side effects, and will monitor you regularly. There are ways to manage side effects.
Radiotherapy for pancreatic cancer is usually image guided radiotherapy (IGRT). This describes all the different types of imaging, such as scans and X-rays, that are used to check that the radiotherapy is given accurately.
The most commons types of radiotherapy for pancreatic cancer in the UK are:
- 3D conformal radiotherapy
- intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT)
- volumetric modulated arc radiotherapy (VMAT)
A type of precise radiotherapy which uses high doses of radiation over a shorter time is called stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR). SABR is not routinely available for pancreatic cancer on the NHS, but it may be available as part of a clinical trial.
While you are having radiotherapy or chemoradiotherapy you will probably be going to the hospital Monday to Friday, for five to six weeks, although this varies. The treatment itself only takes around 10-30 minutes, but it can be tiring, so it’s important to look after yourself during treatment.
Published July 2017
Review date July 2019