Pancreatic cancer

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Radiation therapy for pancreatic cancer

Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to destroy cancer cells. It is sometimes used to treat pancreatic cancer. Your healthcare team will consider your personal needs to plan the type and amount of radiation, and when and how it is given. You may also receive other treatments.

Radiation may be given during the same time period as chemotherapy. This is called chemoradiation. Some chemotherapy drugs make radiation therapy more effective.

Radiation therapy is given for different reasons. You may have radiation therapy:

  • as the primary treatment, often as chemoradiation, for locally advanced tumours
  • to destroy cancer cells left behind after surgery or chemotherapy and reduce the risk of the cancer recurring (called adjuvant radiation therapy)
  • to relieve pain or control the symptoms of advanced pancreatic cancer (called palliative radiation therapy)
  • as part of chemoradiation before surgery (called neoadjuvant therapy) to try to shrink borderline resectable tumour so it can be completely removed (resected)

External beam radiation therapy

Pancreatic cancer is usually treated with external beam radiation therapy. A machine directs radiation through the skin to the tumour and some of the tissue around it. Radiation therapy for pancreatic cancer often involves daily treatments for 5–6 weeks.


Chemoradiation may be used for borderline or locally advanced pancreatic tumours. The most common drug used in chemoradiation is 5-fluorouracil (Adrucil, 5-FU).

Questions to ask about radiation therapy

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


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It’s okay to need help to quit smoking. The Canadian Cancer Society is here to support people who are ready to quit and even those people who aren’t ready.

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