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Chemotherapy involves the use of medications to kill cancer cells. The medications may be given intravenously or by mouth. These drugs are usually given in cycles, with alternating periods of treatment and recovery, and may be given alone or in conjunction with radiation therapy or surgery. The medications are very powerful and can lead to a wide range of side effects, including hair loss, changes in appetite, and fatigue.
The leading chemotherapy agent is a drug called gemcitabine or Gemzar. Recent studies of gemcitabine combined with a drug called taxol, also known as Abraxane, conducted at Johns Hopkins and elsewhere, have shown increases in survival of more than 10 months, compared to giving gemcitabine alone.
Long used for metastatic breast cancer patients, taxol is a chemotherapy drug encapsulated in tiny shells made to target cancer cells. Additional studies are planned to include a larger number of patients with multiple institutions participating.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins are working to develop new agents for the treatment of pancreas cancer. Ongoing clinical trials at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center are available for patients who have not yet received any treatment, or, for those whose tumor is not responding to standard treatments.