Canadian Cancer Society logo

Pancreatic cancer

You are here: 

Chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer

Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells. It is commonly used to treat pancreatic cancer. Your healthcare team will consider your personal needs to plan the drugs, doses and schedules of chemotherapy. You may also receive other treatments.

Chemotherapy is given for different reasons. You may have chemotherapy:

  • as the primary treatment for unresectable (locally advanced or metastatic) pancreatic cancer
  • to relieve pain or to control the symptoms of advanced pancreatic cancer (called palliative chemotherapy)
  • after surgery to destroy cancer cells left behind and to reduce the risk of the cancer recurring (called adjuvant chemotherapy)
  • to shrink a borderline resectable tumour before surgery or radiation therapy (called neoadjuvant chemotherapy)

Chemotherapy is usually a systemic therapy. This means that the drugs travel through the bloodstream to reach and destroy cancer cells all over the body, including those that may have broken away from the primary tumour in the pancreas.

Chemotherapy may also be given during the same time as radiation therapy. This is called chemoradiation.

Chemotherapy drugs used for pancreatic cancer

Chemotherapy drugs and combinations used to treat pancreatic cancer are:

  • gemcitabine (Gemzar)
  • 5-fluorouracil (Adrucil, 5-FU)
  • 5-fluorouracil and leucovorin (folinic acid)
  • 5-fluorouracil and cisplatin (Paraplatin AQ)
  • 5-fluorouracil, irinotecan (Camptosar) and oxaliplatin (Eloxatin)
  • FOLFIRINOX – leucovorin, 5-fluorouracil, irinotecan and oxaliplatin
  • gemcitabine and cisplatin
  • gemcitabine and protein-bound paclitaxel (Abraxane)

If pancreatic cancer does not respond to drugs used in earlier treatments or if it recurs, other drugs may be used.

Chemoradiation

Chemoradiation is treatment that combines chemotherapy with radiation therapy. Chemotherapy is given during the same time period as radiation therapy. Each treatment makes the other more effective.

Chemoradiation may be given after surgery for resectable tumours. It may also be used before surgery for borderline resectable or as the main treatment for locally advanced tumours. The most common drug used in chemoradiation is 5-fluorouracil.

Information about specific cancer drugs

Details on specific drugs change quite regularly. Find out more about sources of drug information and where to get details on specific drugs.

Questions to ask about chemotherapy

Find out more about chemotherapy. To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about chemotherapy.

Stories

Stephanie Hermsen Thanks to the incredible progress in retinoblastoma research made possible by Canadian Cancer Society funding, my son won’t have to go through what I did.

Read Stephanie's story

Volunteers provide comfort and kindness

Illustration of volunteers

Thousands of Canadian Cancer Society volunteers work in regional cancer centres, lodges and community hospitals to support people receiving treatment.

Learn more