Who can have radiotherapy?

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

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

You may have radiotherapy for borderline resectable cancer, locally advanced cancer, or advanced pancreatic 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. Sometimes radiotherapy may be used on its own, but this is less common. These treatments aim to shrink the cancer enough to make it possible to remove it with surgery.

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 pancreatic 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 if surgery may be possible.

Another option may be a type of radiotherapy called SABR (stereotactic ablative body radiotherapy). This is very precise radiotherapy that delivers higher doses of radiation in a shorter time – usually 5 sessions. 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. The aim is to help control the cancer and slow down its growth. You may have a CT scan six to eight weeks after having treatment, to see if the cancer has shrunk enough to have surgery.

SABR was approved for use in the NHS in England in October 2021 and is being rolled out in England. It is not yet approved for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

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. Read more about treatments to manage pain.

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

Read more about treatments to manage pain.

Speak to our 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

Speak to our nurses

Updated January 2022

Review date January 2022