Pancreatic cancer has a survival rate of only 2% to 3% of patients living five years or more after treatment.
Research from the University of Liverpool found patients given the chemotherapy drug 5FU alongside folinic acid after an operation to remove the cancer had a five-year survival rate of 24%, compared with 14% for those who only had surgery.
The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer and funded by Cancer Research UK, showed that the one-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer has doubled since the 1970s but is still only 13%, dropping further as years pass.
Lead author Professor John Neoptolemos said: "Pancreatic cancer continues to be one of the hardest cancers to treat and has very low survival rates.
"These results show that chemotherapy after surgery is the best way to treat patients, giving people precious extra months or even years of life.
"There is still a long way to go before we can really reduce the number of people that die from the disease but this research moves us in the right direction."