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What Happens During Chemotherapy for Pancreatic Cancer

Photo of intravenous drug bag

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. These drugs also harm healthy cells. This can cause side effects. Right now, chemotherapy alone does not cure pancreatic cancer. But it may slow the growth of the cancer for a time or help ease symptoms to help you feel better. 

How often you get chemotherapy treatments depends on the type of drugs you receive. The type of chemotherapy drug you get often depends on the stage of your tumor and what other treatments you receive.

Different ways you can get chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer

The way you take chemotherapy depends on the type and stage of your cancer:

  • Systemic therapy. Systemic means affecting the entire body. Chemotherapy that is systemic goes all through your body. This means it can kill cancer cells that have spread. You take this chemotherapy in a pill or get it by IV, into a vein. Systemic therapy harms healthy cells as well as cancer cells. This may cause side effects. If you have the drugs given intravenously, you will likely get them at an outpatient clinic. These treatments may last several hours.

  • Regional therapy. This type of chemotherapy treats only a certain part of your body. The doctor injects it into your pancreas or abdominal cavity (belly) to kill cells in that area. The drugs are less likely to harm other cells in your body than they would if they were put into your bloodstream. This may reduce side effects. This is not a common way to get chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer. 

Types of chemotherapy drugs for pancreatic cancer

The most common drug for pancreatic cancer is Gemzar (gemcitabine). Fluorouracil (5-FU) is another commonly used drug. Doctors are studying whether combining Gemzar and 5-FU with each other or with other chemotherapy drugs improves how well they work.

These are some other drugs that may be used along with Gemzar and 5-FU to treat pancreatic cancer:

  • Irinotecan

  • Paclitaxel

  • Docetaxel

  • Oxaliplatin

  • Capecitabine

  • Cisplatin

Researchers are always looking for new drugs and new combinations of current drugs that may work better. Ask your doctor for more information if you are interested in clinical trials that look at new treatments for pancreatic cancer.

Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Online Medical Reviewer: Welch, Annette, MNS, OCN
Last Review Date: 3/25/2014
© 2013 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.