Pancreatic Cancer Overview

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Treating Pancreatic Cancer TOPICS

Chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer

Chemotherapy (chemo) is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Usually the drugs are given into a vein or are taken as a pill. Once the drugs enter the bloodstream, they go throughout the body. This makes chemo useful for cancer that has spread beyond the place where it started.

Chemo may be used at any stage of pancreatic cancer. It is can be used for people with advanced cancer. Chemo may also be used after the cancer has been removed to try to kill any cancer cells that may have been left behind. This type of treatment is called adjuvant treatment. It may help stop the cancer from coming back later. In people who are going to have surgery, chemo and radiation may be given to shrink the tumor ahead of time. This is known as neoadjuvant treatment.

Chemo can cause side effects. These side effects will depend on the type of drugs given, the amount taken, and how long treatment lasts.

Common short-term side effects might include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hair loss
  • Mouth sores
  • Diarrhea

Because chemo can damage the bone marrow (where new blood cells are made) blood cell counts might become low. This can result in:

  • Increased risk of infection (from a shortage of white blood cells)
  • Bleeding or bruising after minor cuts (from a shortage of platelets)
  • Tiredness (fatigue) (from too few red blood cells)

Most side effects go away once treatment is over. Anyone who has problems with side effects should talk with their doctor or nurse, as there are often ways to help.


Last Medical Review: 02/15/2013
Last Revised: 02/03/2014