For some people with pancreatic cancer, treatment can remove or destroy the cancer. Completing treatment can be both stressful and exciting. You may be relieved to finish treatment, but find it hard not to worry about cancer coming back. This is very common if you’ve had cancer.
For many people with pancreatic cancer, the cancer might never go away completely, or it might come back in another part of the body. These people may get regular treatments with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or other therapies to help keep the cancer under control for as long as possible. Learning to live with cancer that does not go away can be difficult and very stressful.
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.
Some treatment side effects might last a long time or might not even show up until years after you have finished treatment. Your doctor visits are a good time to ask questions and talk about any changes or problems you notice or concerns you have.
It’s important for all pancreatic cancer survivors, to let their health care team know about any new symptoms or problems, because they could be caused by the cancer coming back or by a new disease or second cancer.
Your schedule of doctor visits, exams, and tests will depend on the original extent of your cancer, how it was treated, and other factors. Most often, for people with no signs of cancer remaining, many doctors recommend follow-up visits (which may include CT scans and blood tests) about every 3 months for the first couple of years after treatment and then about every 6 months for the next several years. Be sure to follow your doctor’s advice about follow-up tests.
Talk with your doctor about developing a survivorship care plan for you. This plan might include:
Even if you’ve finished treatment, it’s 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.
At some point after your cancer treatment, you might find yourself seeing a new doctor who doesn’t know about your medical history. It’s important to keep copies of your medical records to give your new doctor the details of your diagnosis and treatment. Learn more in Keeping Copies of Important Medical Records.
Pancreatic cancer often causes weight loss and weakness from poor nutrition. These symptoms might 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 keep up 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 Nutrition for the Person With Cancer.
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..
If you have (or have had) pancreatic cancer, you probably want to know if there are things you can do that might lower your risk of the cancer growing or coming back, such as exercising, eating a certain type of diet, or taking nutritional supplements. Unfortunately, it’s not yet clear if there are things you can do that will help.
Tobacco use has clearly been linked to pancreatic cancer, so not smoking may help reduce your risk. We don’t know for certain if this will help, but we do know that it can help improve your appetite and overall health. It can also reduce the chance of developing other types of cancer. If you want to quit smoking and need help, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345.
Other healthy behaviors such as eating well, getting regular physical activity, and staying at a healthy weight might help as well, but no one knows for sure. However, we do know that these types of changes can have positive effects on your health that can extend beyond your risk of cancer.
So far, no dietary supplements (including vitamins, minerals, and herbal products) have been shown to clearly help lower the risk of pancreatic cancer progressing or coming back. This doesn’t mean that no supplements will help, but it’s important to know that none have been proven to do so.
Dietary supplements are not regulated like medicines in the United States – they do not have to be proven effective (or even safe) before being sold, although there are limits on what they’re allowed to claim they can do. If you’re thinking about taking any type of nutritional supplement, talk to your health care team. They can help you decide which ones you can use safely while avoiding those that might be harmful.
If your cancer does come back at some point, your treatment options will depend on the where the cancer is, what treatments you’ve had before, and your health. Treatment options might include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or some combination of these. See Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer, Based on Extent of the Cancer.
For more general information on recurrence, see Understanding Recurrence.
People who’ve had pancreatic cancer can still get other cancers. Learn more in Second Cancers After Pancreatic Cancer.
Some amount of feeling depressed, anxious, or worried is normal when pancreatic cancer is a part of your life. Some people are affected more than others. But everyone can benefit from help and support from other people, whether friends and family, religious groups, support groups, professional counselors, or others. Learn more in Life After Cancer.
The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
Mauro LA, Herman JM, Jaffee EM, Laheru DA. Chapter 81: Carcinoma of the pancreas. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Dorshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa. Elsevier: 2014.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma. V.1.2019. Accessed at https://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/pancreatic.pdf on January 3, 2019.
Rock CL, Thomson C, Gansler
T, et al. American Cancer Society guideline for diet and physical activity for
cancer prevention. CA: A Cancer Journal for
Clinicians. 2020;70(4). doi:10.3322/caac.21591. Accessed at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.3322/caac.21591
on June 9, 2020
Winter JM, Brody JR, Abrams RA, Lewis NL, Yeo CJ. Chapter 49: Cancer of the Pancreas. In: DeVita VT, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2015.
Last Revised: June 9, 2020
American Cancer Society medical information is copyrighted material. For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.