Further information chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer

Chemotherapy treatment is the use of cytotoxic (cell-killing) medicines to destroy cancer cells. However, the treatment reaches all of the cells in the body. Chemotherapy is therefore known as a systemic therapy. It is an important treatment option for many types of cancer.

Why is chemotherapy given?

Chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer can be given for several reasons:

  • To prevent the cancer coming back after surgery or radiotherapy. The aim is to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. This is called adjuvant therapy.
  • To reduce the size of a cancer. Chemotherapy can be used to shrink the tumour in the pancreas before surgery or radiotherapy can be considered. This is called neo-adjuvant therapy. This is not yet routinely carried out in the UK.
  • To shrink a cancer in order to control symptoms. In this case chemotherapy can be given to try to prolong and improve quality of life.
  • To increase the effectiveness of radiotherapy treatment.

Chemotherapy can be used alongside radiotherapy to increase the chance of treatment being effective. This combined approach is becoming more common and is known as chemo-radiotherapy.

Will chemotherapy affect my everyday life?

Chemotherapy affects people differently. You may feel unwell after each course of chemotherapy due to its side affects. This can last for days, weeks or months depending on the medication and your previous level of fitness. If you are having your chemotherapy in hospital you may need to adapt your usual routine. Let your medical team know if you have an event to attend or a holiday. It may be possible fit your treatment around this. Your oncologist will be able to tell you if this is possible.

Chemotherapy can come with side affects. You may experience these during your treatment and for some time after it. You may need to take some time off of work or cut down on social activities during this time.

Click on the link for more information on the side effects of chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer

man having chemo

Planning your chemotherapy

Your doctor should discuss any and all treatment options available to you when you are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Your medical team will recommend the best treatments for you but the decision about what treatment you would like is ultimately yours. When considering if chemotherapy is right for you, and what type of chemotherapy is best, your medical team will take into account:

  • The type of cancer you have
  • Where in the body it is situated
  • If it has spread
  • Your general health

How often you have your treatment and how long it takes depends on the type of cancer you have, the type of chemotherapy, how well the disease responds to treatment and any side effects that you are experiencing.

You may need several courses of chemotherapy. Your oncologist will discuss this with you when explaining the treatment. The oncologist should make sure you understand the options available to you, the treatment you have chosen and that you understand what will happen next. This allows you to make the right decision for you and is called informed consent.

You will need blood tests before every chemotherapy treatment. This will make sure you have no infections are fit to have treatment. It may be possible for you to have the blood taken at your GP’s surgery 2-3 days beforehand or at the hospital before your treatment begins.

Interactions with other medicines

Tell your doctors about any other medicines you are taking

It is important to tell your doctors about any other prescription or over- the-counter medicines you are taking or will be taking, as these may affect how the chemotherapy works in your body. These include herbal remedies and antioxidant and nutritional supplements (such as vitamins and minerals) as well as pharmaceutical treatments.

Click here for more information on how chemotherapy is given.

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Information Product No. | Published: 15/10/2019 | Last Updated: 15/10/2019 | Next Review Due: 15/10/2022