The cancer can take hold without obvious symptoms
Doctors have found combining treatments for pancreatic cancer can significantly boost the five year survival rate.
More than 7,000 people are diagnosed with the disease in the UK every year, but the five-year survival rates are only about 2-3%.
Teams from Liverpool and Birmingham Universities found a combination of chemotherapy and surgery boosted the survival rate to 30%.
For patients who had surgery alone it was 11%.
More than 280 patients from across Europe took part in the 10-year study.
Cancer Research UK scientists who carried out the study now believe that the standard treatment for the disease should change, and all patients who have operable cancer should be considered for chemotherapy after surgery.
Cancer of the pancreas is one of the most aggressive forms of the disease, and can take hold without obvious symptoms.
But the new research suggests that a disease widely considered untreatable can be held at bay.
Professor John Neoptolemos, from the University of Liverpool, said the cancer cells were treated with chemotherapy for six months.
He said: "We're still a long way from curing pancreatic cancer but this research represents a vital first step.
"We can say unequivocally that treating patients with standard chemotherapy does offer precious extra months of life.
"Now we can build on this success by investigating other, newer drugs and combinations of drugs."
Professor Robert Souhami, CRUK director of clinical and external affairs, said: "Pancreatic cancer causes thousands of deaths each year but, until now, the role of chemotherapy and radiation in treatment has not been clear.
"This research shows improved survival with chemotherapy and offers hope that new drug treatments will lead to further advances."
The researchers also concluded that chemoradiation - which involves having chemotherapy at the same time as radiotherapy - was not an effective treatment for pancreatic cancer.