Moving on 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.
For most people with pancreatic cancer, the cancer never goes away completely. These people may get regular treatments with chemotherapy, radiation, or other treatments to help keep the cancer under control and relieve symptoms from it. Learning to live with cancer that does not go away can be hard 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 finished treatment, your doctors will still want to watch you closely. During follow-up visits with your doctors, they will ask about symptoms, do physical exams, and may order blood tests or imaging tests (like CT scans or MRIs). Follow-up is needed to watch for treatment side effects and to check for cancer that has come back or spread. Ask what kind of follow-up schedule you can expect.
Almost any cancer treatment can have side effects. Some may last for a few weeks or months, but others might last the rest of your life. Tell your cancer care team about any symptoms or side effects so they can help you manage them. Use this time to ask your health care team questions and discuss any concerns you might have.
It’s also 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 come back, treatment will depend on where the cancer is, what treatments you’ve had before, and your health. Our document When Your Cancer Comes Back: Cancer Recurrence can help you manage and cope with this phase of your treatment.
Help with nutrition and pain
Often people with cancer of the pancreas don’t feel like eating. They may lose weight and feel weak. These symptoms may be caused by treatment or by the cancer itself. A team of doctors and nutritionists can work with you to help you maintain your weight and nutrition. Many patients need to take pancreatic enzymes in pill form to help digest food. For people with serious nutrition problems, the doctor might need to put a feeding tube into the stomach. 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 help you manage it. For more, see our document Guide to Controlling Cancer Pain.
Seeing a new doctor
At some point after your cancer is found and treated, you may find yourself in the office of a new doctor who doesn’t know anything about your cancer. It’s important that you can 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 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
- If you stayed in the hospital, a copy of the discharge summary that the doctor wrote when you were sent home
- If you had radiation treatment, a summary of the type and dose of radiation and when and where it was given
- If you had chemotherapy, targeted therapies, or other drug treatments, a list of your drugs, drug doses, and when you took them
- The contact information of the doctors who treated your cancer
Last Medical Review: 08/01/2014
Last Revised: 02/01/2016