Who can have radiotherapy?

Radiotherapy is used in different ways depending on your diagnosis and the stage of the cancer.

Radiotherapy for borderline resectable pancreatic cancer

Borderline resectable cancer is cancer that has grown very close to the major blood vessels near the pancreas. It may be possible to remove the cancer, but it depends which blood vessels are affected and how far the cancer has grown.

Chemotherapy together with radiotherapy (chemoradiotherapy) may be suitable for some people with borderline resectable pancreatic cancer. These treatments aim to shrink the cancer enough to make it possible to remove it with surgery. You will usually have a CT scan four to six weeks after chemoradiotherapy, to see if surgery might be possible.

Radiotherapy for locally advanced pancreatic cancer

Locally advanced pancreatic cancer is cancer that has spread to the large blood vessels near the pancreas, or to several lymph nodes.

You may be offered radiotherapy together with chemotherapy (chemoradiotherapy). Chemoradiotherapy may help control the cancer and slow down its growth. For a very small number of people with locally advanced cancer, chemoradiotherapy may shrink the cancer enough so it can be removed with surgery. A CT scan is usually done 12 weeks after chemoradiotherapy to see how well it has worked.

What is SABR (stereotactic ablative body radiotherapy)?

Another option may be a type of radiotherapy called SABR (stereotactic ablative body radiotherapy). You may hear it called Cyberknife. This delivers higher doses of radiation to a very specific area over a shorter time – usually five sessions. The aim is to help control the cancer and slow down its growth.

You will have at least three months of chemotherapy before having SABR. The SABR will start at least two weeks after the last dose of chemotherapy, and you won’t have any chemotherapy during SABR treatment. You may have a CT scan six to eight weeks after treatment to see how well it has worked.

Radiotherapy for advanced pancreatic cancer

If you have cancer that has spread to other parts of the body (advanced or metastatic cancer) it may cause pain by pressing on other organs or nerves near the pancreas. You may be able to have radiotherapy to help the pain. This is called palliative radiotherapy.

Palliative radiotherapy may also be helpful if the cancer has spread to other places such as the bones.

Sometimes the cancer can spread to the bones in the spine or tissues around the spinal cord and can press on the spinal cord. This is called malignant spinal cord compression (MSCC). It is rare but it can be serious. Radiotherapy is the most common treatment for MSCC. Macmillan Cancer Care has more information about MSCC, including the signs and symptoms.

Read more about treatments to manage pain.

Speak to our specialist nurses

Speak to your doctor or nurse about whether radiotherapy is an option for you.

You can also speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line

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Pancreatic Cancer UK specialist nurse talking on the Support Line

Updated January 2024

Review date January 2026