Radiation Therapy in the Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer

Some patients with pancreatic cancer will be treated with radiation therapy, which is often combined with a low dose of chemotherapy designed to enhance the susceptibility of the cancer to the x-ray treatment.   Like surgery, radiation is a form of local therapy, and the treatment is only delivered to a specified area of the body that is predetermined and mapped out by the radiation oncologist.  Like chemotherapy, this can be used in an adjuvant or neoadjuvant setting.  It can also be used for palliation to stop slow bleeding from a tumor into the gastrointestinal tract.

Traditional abdominal radiotherapy is administered in multiple small fractions over a period of 5 weeks.  New approaches and better technology have been developed and are being used to decrease the number of sessions required and to decrease the amount of radiation that is delivered to the normal organs and tissues in the body.

The side effects of radiation therapy are typically isolated to the treatment area. Some common side effects associated with radiation therapy to the abdomen include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. These side effects may occur a few days or weeks after radiation treatments have started and continue for several weeks after completing the treatments. The side effects typically subside over time after the treatments are completed.