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Medications for Pancreatic Cancer

  • Michael Jubinville, MPH
Publication Type:

Condition InDepth

Medications for Pancreatic Cancer

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill pancreatic cancer cells. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body. Targeted therapy attacks or blocks what the cancer needs to grow and spread.


Chemotherapy may be used:

  • Before surgery—to shrink the tumor so less tissue needs to be removed
  • After surgery—to kill leftover cancer cells and lower the risk of it coming back
  • To help ease problems of cancer that's spread and help with living longer

For this type of cancer, radiation therapy is most often used with chemotherapy.

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy drugs attack cancer cells without harming healthy cells. Erlotinib is the only one used on pancreatic cancer. It's made to block a certain protein that makes the tumor grow. Erlotinib is given with gemcitabine.

Some problems are:

  • Rash, mainly on the face and neck
  • Diarrhea
  • Feeling tired
  • Loss of hunger

Managing Side Effects

There are many ways to control problems. In some cases, the drugs can be changed to lessen how they make you feel. The earlier these problems are brought up to your doctor, the more likely they will be controlled.


  • Chemotherapy and other drugs for pancreatic cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/pancreatic-cancer/treating/chemotherapy.html. Accessed October 3, 2020.
  • De La Cruz MD, Young AP, Ruffin MT. Diagnosis and management of pancreatic cancer. Am Fam Physician. 2014;89(8):626-632.
  • Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/pancreatic-adenocarcinoma. Accessed October 3, 2020.
  • Treatment option overview. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/pancreatic/patient/pancreatic-treatment-pdq#section/_162. Accessed October 3, 2020.


  • Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.