is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Unlike
and surgery, which are localized treatments, chemotherapy is a systemic treatment, meaning the drugs travel throughout the whole body. This means chemotherapy can reach cancer cells that may have spread to other areas.
Chemotherapy is usually combined with other types of treatment in an attempt to do the following:
Cure smaller, early-stage pancreatic cancer
Increase survival time in more advanced
pancreatic cancer—this usually means only by a matter of monthsProvide some symptom relief
(5-FU)Gemcitabine—first line treatmentGemcitabine plus erlotinib—first line treatmentCisplatinStreptozotocin for endocrine tumorsInvestigational agents—experimental treatments
Gemcitabine, used alone or in combination with other chemotherapy agents, seems to improve the quality of life for those with pancreatic cancer. Chemotherapy with gemcitabine improves symptoms, including pain, nausea, and vomiting in about 25% of patients. It also provides a modest increase in survival (usually only a few months).
Fluorouracil is not associated with a survival benefit. Cisplatin and some other drugs have been used in combination with gemcitabine, but are associated with more side effects.
These drugs should be used with caution in the elderly, and in those with liver or
kidney disease. The elderly are at an increased risk of side effects.
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Last reviewed September 2015 by Mohei Abouzied, MD
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