Chemotherapy uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer, either by killing cancer cells or stopping them from dividing. Usually the drugs are given by infusion into a vein. Chemotherapy infusions take place in the Infusion Suite on the fifth floor of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance clinic.

  • Exocrine pancreatic cancer: People with this type of cancer typically have chemotherapy, no matter which stage their disease is when it’s diagnosed. You may have chemotherapy before surgery to shrink your tumor so it’s easier to remove, after surgery to kill remaining cancer cells that couldn’t be seen, or instead of surgery if your cancer is too widespread to be removed.
  • Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (NETs): Chemotherapy is not always used for these tumors because typically they do not respond well to it. But there may be situations in which chemotherapy helps control the disease. If your cancer cannot be removed surgically or it has spread to other parts of your body, chemotherapy may be used to slow or stop tumor growth.

Chemotherapy Drugs

For exocrine pancreatic cancer, doctors commonly use the drugs these chemotherapy drugs:

  • Gemcitabine (Gemzar)
  • Fluorouracil (5-FU, Adrucil, Efudex, Fluoroplex)

Other drugs may be combined with gemcitabine or fluorouracil, including these:

  • Capecitabine (Xeloda)
  • Cisplatin (Platinol)
  • Docetaxel (Taxotere)
  • Irinotecan (Camptosar)
  • Oxaliplatin (Eloxitan)
  • Paclitaxel (Taxol)

For pancreatic NETs, doctors commonly use these drugs:

  • Doxorubicin (Adriamycin)
  • Streptozocin (Zanosar)
  • Liposomal doxorubicin (Doxil)
  • Fluorouracil (5-FU)
  • Dacarbazine (DTIC-Dome)
  • Temozolomide (Methazolastone, Temodar)

You may be able to participate in a clinical study testing new combinations of drugs.

Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Although chemotherapy may help cure your cancer or extend your life, it may also make you uncomfortable. Fortunately, there are better drugs to help manage the side effects than we had in the past.

Your team at SCCA will talk with you about the specific side effects you might experience, and we will help you prevent, reduce, or manage these effects as best as possible. You can find general information in the symptom management section.