Radiation therapy may sometimes be used as part of treatment planning for patients with pancreatic cancer. However, as is the case with surgery, radiation is not given to all patients. Radiation treatments are individually designed to target the cancer locally in the pancreas and may halt its growth, often minimizing the symptoms caused by local progression (back or abdominal pain, nausea, loss of appetite, intestinal blockage, jaundice).
Radiation therapy protocols differ according to the tumour resectability. In general, patients will need to have a planned CT scan 7 to 10 days before treatment.
Resectable: radiation is generally not recommended, as surgery is the best curative treatment option. However, if there is risk of local progression post-surgery then radiation may be recommended.
Borderline resectable: radiation may be used in conjunction with chemotherapy (chemoradiotherapy) to decrease tumour size to allow for surgical intervention.
Unresectable: in patients that have previously received upfront chemotherapy and have not developed metastatic disease or significant local progression, radiotherapy may be considered, possibly in combination with chemotherapy.
Palliative Intent Radiation
Palliative intent radiation therapy may be given to patients with locally advanced or metastatic cancers to assist with pain and symptom management. Additionally, metastases elsewhere in the body may be treated with radiation to help manage symptoms of the disease.
There are clinical trials that utilize radiation therapy for different purposes. It is important to discuss these options in detail with a pancreatic cancer specialist physician to determine whether you may be eligible. Please visit the Clinical Trials page for more information.
There are some important considerations to discuss with your specialist physician before choosing radiation as an appropriate part of a treatment plan. These considerations are not absolute, but may affect whether radiation is an option for a particular patient. They include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Patients who have previously had radiation in the region of the pancreas or upper abdomen.
- Patients with certain autoimmune disorders or uncontrolled illness such as active infections, unstable heart problems etc.
- Whether or not the patient can attend daily radiation treatments.
As with other treatments, radiation carries possible side effects. Medications, such as anti-sickness tablets, can be given before treatment to help prevent them. These side effects may include, but are not limited to:
- Reduced appetite
- Short-term increase in regional pain