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Cancer chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Unlike radiation therapy 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:
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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Pancreatic cancer. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated February 23, 2015. Accessed October 5, 2015.
Pancreatic cancer. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal-disorders/tumors-of-the-gi-tract/pancreatic-cancer. Updated July 2014. Accessed October 5, 2015.
Yip D, Karapetis C, Strickland A, et al. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy for inoperable advanced pancreatic cancer. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006;3:CD002093.
Last reviewed September 2015 by Mohei Abouzied, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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