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What Is Involved in Pancreatic Chemotherapy?

By C.B. Fox
Updated May 17, 2024
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A patient who has cancer of the pancreas may be given pancreatic chemotherapy as a part of the treatment plan. Depending on the specifics of the cancer, the treatment may be given alone or may be used alongside other treatments, such as radiation and the surgical removal of the tumor. Chemotherapy drugs are usually given to patients through injection, intravenous line, or in the form of pills. The medications used in chemotherapy often cause severe side effects, though they can improve a patient's quality of life and improve his or her chance of surviving the cancer. Patients are often given pancreatic chemotherapy to prevent the cancer from returning once it has been surgically removed or to decrease the symptoms that the cancer is causing.

Whenever possible, a tumor in the pancreas is completely removed because this type of cancer is highly resistant to chemotherapy and radiation. The cytotoxic drugs used in chemotherapy are, however, frequently given to patients with pancreatic cancer both before and after the tumor removal. Many patients are given these two treatments together as they can significantly reduce the risk of the cancer spreading to other parts of the body or recurring once it has been destroyed.

Though the cancer cells in pancreatic cancer are difficult to kill, pancreatic chemotherapy may also be given to patients who are unable to have the tumor surgically removed. In these cases, the purpose of the drugs is mainly to decrease the rate of growth of the tumor and to extend the patient's life. These drugs may also decrease the symptoms of the cancer, though they are unlikely to reverse the disease.

There are three main ways that pancreatic chemotherapy can be administered. The drugs may be administered in pill form or they may be injected with a needle or through an intravenous line. Chemotherapy drugs must be taken on a regular schedule in order to work properly, though the exact dosage and frequency will differ from patient to patient. A variety of different drugs can be prescribed, including cisplatin, mitomycin, and gemcitabine. A doctor will determine what combination of drugs to try based on the properties of the patient's cancer.

A patient who is undergoing pancreatic chemotherapy may experience a wide range of side effects. These drugs are known to cause nausea, fatigue, hair loss, and immune system suppression. Though not all patients can expect to have these problems, they are quite common. Part of chemotherapy treatment may include the use of medications that lessen the adverse effects of the chemotherapy.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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