Radiotherapy for pancreatic cancer

Radiotherapy may be a treatment option for some people with pancreatic cancer. It may be used on its own or together with chemotherapy. The aim is to control the cancer and relieve symptoms.

Key facts

  • Radiotherapy uses radiation to destroy cancer cells.
  • A machine called a linear accelerator (linac) directs beams of radiation at the cancer from outside the body. The machine will not touch you during the treatment.
  • If you have pancreatic cancer, you may have radiotherapy on its own, or together with chemotherapy. This is called chemoradiotherapy.
  • Chemoradiotherapy may be suitable for some people with borderline resectable pancreatic cancer. The aim is to shrink the cancer enough to make it possible to remove it with surgery.
  • Chemoradiotherapy may be offered to people with locally advanced pancreatic cancer. It may help control the cancer and slow down its growth.
  • SABR (stereotactic ablative body radiotherapy) may be another option for locally advanced cancer. SABR delivers higher doses of radiotherapy to a very specific area over fewer treatments. You will have up to three months of chemotherapy first.
  • Pancreatic cancer that has spread to other parts of the body (advanced or metastatic cancer) can cause pain. You may be able to have radiotherapy to help relieve the pain. This is called palliative radiotherapy.
  • You will usually go to the hospital Monday to Friday for your radiotherapy. How long treatment goes on for will vary, but it is usually three to six weeks. SABR will take one to two weeks. Palliative radiotherapy may be a single dose or a few sessions over one to three weeks.
  • If you are having chemoradiotherapy, you will usually have chemotherapy on its own for three to six months to begin with. If the cancer has not grown, you will then have radiotherapy and chemotherapy every day from Monday to Friday, for three to six weeks.
  • The chemotherapy drug most often used with radiotherapy is capecitabine, which is taken as a tablet.
  • Radiotherapy can cause side effects but these are often mild. They may include fatigue, feeling and being sick, and runny poo. Your medical team will help you manage them. If you have chemoradiotherapy, you may also get side effects from the chemotherapy.

Questions to ask your doctor or nurse

  • Why is radiotherapy recommended for me?
  • Will radiotherapy help control my cancer?
  • Will radiotherapy help me to live longer?
  • Will radiotherapy help any of my symptoms?
  • How long will I have radiotherapy for?
  • How long will each session last?
  • Will I have chemotherapy as well as radiotherapy?
  • What side effects might I get?
  • How can the side effects be managed?
  • Who do I contact if I have side effects?
  • Will I have any long term side effects?
  • Which hospital will I go to for radiotherapy?
  • Are there any clinical trials using radiotherapy or chemoradiotherapy that I could take part in?
  • How soon will I know if the treatment is working?
  • Are there any other treatment options that would be suitable for me?

Speak to our specialist nurses

You can speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line for more information about radiotherapy.

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Read our fact sheet about radiotherapy

To read about radiotherapy, download our fact sheet.

Download our fact sheet
Page 1 radiotherapy fact sheet

Published January 2024

To be reviewed January 2026


References and acknowledgements


If you would like the references to the sources used to write this information, email us at


We would like to thank the following people who reviewed our information on radiotherapy.

  • Catriona Buchan, Radiotherapy Advanced Practitioner, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Mairead Daly, Therapeutic Radiographer and Postgraduate Researcher
  • Stephen Falk, Consultant Oncologist, University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust
  • Ganesh Radhakrishna, Consultant Clinical Oncologist, The Christie NHS Foundation Trust, Manchester
  • Pancreatic Cancer UK Lay Information Reviewers
  • Pancreatic Cancer UK specialist nurses