Chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer

Chemotherapy is one of the main treatments for pancreatic cancer. It uses drugs to kill cancer cells.

Coronavirus and chemotherapy

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.

Your treatment may be changed to try to reduce the chance of you getting coronavirus.

Read about how coronavirus may affect people with pancreatic cancer

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.

Read our fact sheet about chemotherapy

To read more about chemotherapy you can download or order a copy of our fact sheet, Chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer.

Download or order our fact sheet
An image of the front cover of Pancreatic Cancer UK's fact sheet, Chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer

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.

Read more about how chemotherapy is given.

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). Read more about the side effects of chemotherapy.

Where can I get support?

Chemotherapy can be difficult to deal with. But there is support to help you cope. Speak to your doctor or nurse about any questions or worries you may have.

Read more about coping with chemotherapy

Questions to ask your doctor or nurse


  • 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?

Updated August 2019       

Review date August 2021