Review article: chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer

Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2003 Dec;18(11-12):1049-69. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2036.2003.01781.x.


Pancreatic cancer is a common, highly lethal disease that is rising in incidence. Chemotherapy based on 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) has been shown to prolong survival in advanced pancreatic cancer. Gemcitabine improves major symptoms and survival outcomes compared with bolus 5-FU. Many novel small molecules are being widely and actively researched. These compounds are based on classical mechanisms of action as well as biological therapies targeting novel cellular survival pathways, and include fluoropyrimidines, nucleoside cytidine analogues, platinum analogues, topoisomerase-inhibitors, antimicrotubule agents, proteasome inhibitors, vitamin D analogues, arachidonic acid pathway inhibitors, histone deacytylator inhibitors, farnesyltransferase inhibitors and epidermal growth factor receptor therapies. Adjuvant chemotherapy has also demonstrated the best survival outcomes following resection compared to other adjuvant or neo-adjuvant strategies such as radiation-based treatments. These benefits are superimposed on the dramatic increase in resectability rates and reduction in post-operative mortality achieved by centralisation of treatment in high-volume speciality centres. Newer 'small-molecule' drugs as well as the latest 'large-molecule' biological agents hold considerable promise for the future. Real advances are anticipated over the next five years but are dependent on large randomised controlled trials for success.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antimetabolites, Antineoplastic / therapeutic use
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / drug therapy*
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Radiotherapy, Adjuvant


  • Antimetabolites, Antineoplastic
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Enzyme Inhibitors