What happens after treatment for pancreatic cancer?
For some people with pancreatic cancer, treatment can remove or destroy the cancer. Completing treatment can be both stressful and exciting. You will be relieved to finish treatment, yet it is hard not to worry about cancer coming back. (When cancer returns, it is called recurrence.) This is a very common concern among those who have had cancer.
It may take a while before your fears lessen. But it may help to know that many cancer survivors have learned to live with this uncertainty and are living full lives. Our document Living With Uncertainty: The Fear of Cancer Recurrence gives more detailed information on this and can be read online.
For most people with pancreatic exocrine cancer (and some people with pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors), the cancer never goes away completely. These people may get regular treatments with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or other therapies to try to help keep the cancer under control and relieve symptoms from it. Learning to live with cancer that does not go away can be difficult and very stressful. It has its own type of uncertainty. Our document When Cancer Doesn’t Go Away talks more about this.
If you have completed treatment, your doctors will still want to watch you closely. It’s very important to go to all of your follow-up appointments. During these visits, your doctors will ask questions about any problems you are having and may do exams and lab or imaging tests to look for signs of cancer or treatment side effects. These tests are described in the section “How is pancreatic cancer diagnosed?”
Almost any cancer treatment can have side effects. Some may last for a few weeks to months, but others can last the rest of your life. This is the time for you to talk to your cancer care team about any changes or problems you notice and any questions or concerns you have.
After your cancer treatment is finished, you will probably need to still see your cancer doctor for many years. Ask what kind of follow-up schedule you can expect.
It’s also very important to keep health insurance. Tests and doctor visits cost a lot, and even though no one wants to think of their cancer coming back, this could happen.
If cancer does recur, treatment will depend on where the cancer is, what treatments you’ve had before, and your overall health. Our document When Your Cancer Comes Back: Cancer Recurrence can give you information on how to manage and cope with this phase of your treatment.
Help with nutrition and pain
Pancreatic cancer often causes weight loss and weakness due to poor nutrition. These symptoms may be caused by treatment or by the cancer itself. A team of doctors and nutritionists can work with you to provide nutritional supplements and information about your individual nutritional needs. This can help you maintain your weight and nutritional intake. Many patients need to take pancreatic enzymes in pill form to help digest food so that it can be absorbed. For serious nutrition problems, the doctor might need to put a feeding tube into the stomach to improve nutrition and energy levels. This is usually temporary. For more information and nutrition tips for during and after cancer treatment, see our document Nutrition for the Person With Cancer During Treatment: A Guide for Patients and Families.
There are many ways to control pain caused by pancreatic cancer. If you have pain, tell your cancer care team right away, so they can give you prompt and effective pain management. For more information, see our document Guide to Controlling Cancer Pain.
Seeing a new doctor
At some point after your cancer diagnosis and treatment, you may find yourself seeing a new doctor who doesn’t know anything about your medical history. It’s important that you be able to give your new doctor the details of your diagnosis and treatment. Gathering these details during and soon after treatment may be easier than trying to get them at some point in the future. Make sure you have this information handy (and always keep copies for yourself):
- A copy of your pathology report(s) from any biopsy or surgery
- Copies of imaging tests (CT or MRI scans, etc.), which can usually be stored digitally (on a DVD, etc.)
- If you had surgery, a copy of your operative report(s)
- If you stayed in the hospital, a copy of the discharge summary that the doctor prepared when you were sent home
- If you had chemotherapy, targeted therapy, or other drug treatment, a list of the drugs, drug doses, and when you took them
- If you had radiation therapy, a summary of the type and dose of radiation and when and where it was given
- The names and contact information of the doctors who treated your cancer
Last Medical Review: 06/11/2014
Last Revised: 01/09/2015