Moving on after treatment for pancreatic cancer
For some people with pancreatic cancer, treatment may 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. You can also call us to have a free copy sent to you.
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 try to help keep the cancer in check. 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 (see the section called “More information about pancreatic cancer”). You can read it online or you can call us to have a free copy sent to you.
After your treatment is over, ongoing follow-up is very important. During these visits, your doctors will ask about symptoms, do physical exams and may order blood tests or imaging studies (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.
Almost any cancer treatment can have side effects. Some may last for a few weeks or months, but others can be permanent. Please tell your cancer care team about any symptoms or side effects that bother you so they can help you manage them. Use this time to ask your health care team questions and discuss any concerns you might have.
After your cancer treatment is finished, you will probably need to still see your cancer doctor for many years. So, ask what kind of follow-up schedule you can expect.
It is also important to keep health insurance. While you hope your cancer won’t come back, it could happen. If it does, you don’t want to have to worry about paying for treatment. Should your cancer come back, our document When Your Cancer Comes Back: Cancer Recurrence helps you manage and cope with this phase of your treatment. You can read it online or call us for a free copy.
Often people with cancer of the pancreas don’t feel like eating. They may lose weight and feel weak. All patients treated with surgery (the Whipple procedure) lose weight and have trouble eating, but other treatments or even just the cancer itself can also cause these problems. If they can, people are often told to try to eat high-energy foods. Many patients need to take pancreas enzymes in pill form to help digest food. In a few cases the doctors may put a feeding tube into the stomach or intestine to improve nutrition and energy levels.
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 does not know anything about your cancer. It is important that you be able to give your new doctor the exact details of your diagnosis and treatment. Make sure you have this information handy:
- A copy of your pathology report from any biopsy or surgery
- If you had surgery, a copy of your operative report
- If you were in the hospital, a copy of the discharge summary that the doctor wrote when you were sent home from the hospital
- 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
- Copies of your lab results and imaging tests (these can often be put on a DVD).
The doctor may want copies of this information for his records, but always keep copies for yourself.
Last Medical Review: 02/15/2013
Last Revised: 02/03/2014