Pancreatic Cancer: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

The digestive system, including the pancreas

Pancreatic cancer occurs when abnormal cells grow out of control in the pancreas. Your pancreas is in your belly, behind your stomach. It makes juices that help your body digest food. It also makes insulin, which helps control your blood sugar level.

You may have a combination of treatments, depending on how advanced your cancer is. You may have surgery to take out part or all of your pancreas. Also, you may need radiation treatments or may take medicines that destroy cancer cells (chemotherapy). You may need to take medicines to help you digest food and control your blood sugar. If the cancer causes pain, your doctor will give you medicine or other treatment to help you be more comfortable.

When you find out that you have cancer, you may feel many emotions and may need some help coping. Seek out family, friends, and counsellors for support. You also can do things at home to make yourself feel better while you go through treatment. Call the Canadian Cancer Society (1-888-939-3333) or visit its website at www.cancer.ca for more information.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse call line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You may get medicine for nausea and vomiting if you have these side effects.
  • Eat healthy food. If you do not feel like eating, try to eat food that has protein and extra calories to keep up your strength and prevent weight loss. Drink liquid meal replacements for extra calories and protein. Try to eat your main meal early.
  • Get some physical activity every day, but do not get too tired. Keep doing the hobbies you enjoy as your energy allows.
  • Take steps to control your stress and workload. Learn relaxation techniques.
    • Share your feelings. Stress and tension affect our emotions. By expressing your feelings to others, you may be able to understand and cope with them.
    • Consider joining a support group. Talking about a problem with your spouse, a good friend, or other people with similar problems is a good way to reduce tension and stress.
    • Express yourself through art. Try writing, crafts, dance, or art to relieve stress. Some dance, writing, or art groups may be available just for people who have cancer.
    • Be kind to your body and mind. Getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and taking time to do things you enjoy can contribute to an overall feeling of balance in your life and help reduce stress.
    • Get help if you need it. Discuss your concerns with your doctor or counsellor.
  • If you are vomiting or have diarrhea:
    • Drink plenty of fluids (enough so that your urine is light yellow or clear like water) to prevent dehydration. Choose water and other caffeine-free clear liquids. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
    • When you are able to eat, try clear soups, mild foods, and liquids until all symptoms are gone for 12 to 48 hours. Other good choices include dry toast, crackers, cooked cereal, and gelatin dessert, such as Jell-O.
  • If you have not already done so, prepare an advance care plan. An advance care plan provides instructions to your doctor and family members about what kind of care you want if you become unable to speak or express yourself.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You vomit blood or what looks like coffee grounds.
  • You pass maroon or very bloody stools.
  • You have a fever and are very weak.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your pain gets worse.
  • You have any unusual bleeding, such as:
    • Blood spots under the skin.
    • A nosebleed that you cannot stop.
    • Bleeding gums when you brush your teeth.
    • Blood in your urine.
    • Vaginal bleeding when you are not having your period, or heavy period bleeding.
  • Your stools are black and tar-like or have streaks of blood.
  • You have signs of needing more fluids. You have sunken eyes and a dry mouth, and you pass only a little dark urine.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You are not able to eat well and are losing weight.
  • You feel very sad or anxious, or both.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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