Pancreatic Cancer Survivorship

Pancreatic cancer survivors may create a new “normal” while they take time to recover. They may have permanent scars on their bodies or find it more difficult to do certain activities. Treatment for those who do not qualify for surgery may be ongoing, and side effects may continue for an extended period after treatment ends. These side effects may include:

  • Changes in bowel function: Pancreatic cancer or its treatment may result in diarrhea, as there is a decrease in the amount of digestive enzymes being produced by the pancreas. Some survivors may need pancreatic enzyme supplements to help support digestion. Your doctor, nurse or oncology dietitian can help recommend an appropriate supplement.
  • Diabetes management: Pancreatic cancer patients may develop diabetes from the disease or from cancer treatment, especially surgery. If this happens, it is important to be evaluated by health care providers specializing in diabetes management. A dietitian familiar with both diabetes and cancer can help you manage your nutritional needs.
  • Altered digestion: Surgery, chemotherapy or radiation can alter your digestion, resulting in poor appetite, weight loss, abdominal bloating or excess gas. An oncology dietitian can help you get the nutrition you need while managing these issues.
  • Pain: Some survivors have significant pain from pancreatic cancer even when treatment is finished.
  • Neuropathy (nerve damage): Chemotherapy may cause damage to nerves, resulting in numbness, tingling, burning or shooting pain. As tumors grow, they may also cause damage as they press on nearby nerves. If chemotherapy is causing your neuropathy, your doctor may alter your dosage or recommend an alternative treatment. Some patients may also benefit from acupuncture, over-the-counter pain relievers and prescription medications. Physical activity can help promote healthy blood flow to the problem areas.
  • Fatigue: Weight loss and muscle wasting, both common in pancreatic cancer patients, may cause fatigue and weakness. If your cancer treatment inadvertently destroys some healthy cancer cells, you may experience fatigue while your body attempts to repair itself. Pain, poor nutrition and anxiety may also contribute to fatigue. Tell your doctor about any persistent fatigue you experience so he or she can help you address the underlying issues.

Unfortunately, many pancreatic cancer patients are never cured of their disease. Even after successful surgery, the cancer may recur. Always discuss any health concerns and symptoms with your doctor. While staying informed about your illness and treatment is essential, it also is important to try to regain your personal balance by eating healthy, exercising, reducing stress and finding sources of support. Avoid tobacco and limit alcohol intake. Keep up with other health screenings such as mammograms and colonoscopies.

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