Pancreatic Cancer

Side Effects

Any treatment strong enough to kill cancer cells may have the potential to affect some of your healthy cells in the process. While side effects are common for all types of cancer and its treatment, not all patients will have the same experience. Some people encounter no problems at all, while others struggle with several symptoms that may affect their overall quality of life.

Whatever the case, be sure to let your doctor know when you experience any problems so that he or she can either change your treatment plan or help you figure out ways to ease your symptoms.

Because there are several types of treatment for pancreatic cancer, there are also different side effects that accompany each one. Everything from tiredness and irritability to losing your hair and your ability to have kids could come with your treatment and should be discussed with your doctors before you even begin therapy. Knowing as much as you can about the treatments you have in store will help you gain control and focus on becoming a survivor – not a sufferer – of cancer.

Common side effects by treatment

Surgery

When surgeons remove a part of an organ, you can expect to encounter some discomfort during your recovery. While the circumstances are different for each patient, you may wake up from surgery in some pain but will be given medication to keep you comfortable. Problems with digestion are also common after surgery, but pancreatic enzymes can be taken by mouth to help your body maintain the proper functions. Tiredness is also a common side effect following surgery but can be improved by maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine.

Chemotherapy

These drugs kill rapidly growing cancer cells but can also harm healthy cells in the process. This may result in side effects like hair loss, fluid retention (which may lead to foot and leg swelling), mouth sores, changes in taste, weakness, fatigue, easy bleeding or bruising, neuropathy (pain or tingling in the feet and hands), nausea, vomiting, constipation and diarrhea. Most of these will stop with treatment, but ask your doctor for prescriptions or over-the-counter remedies that might help with nausea and with boosting your cell counts. Eat soft, moist foods to help with mouth sores, and avoid alcohol as well as spicy and acidic foods while you’re healing.

Radiation

External-beam radiation therapy uses high energy X-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Side effects of this treatment include fatigue, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and radiation burns. Skin in the treated areas may become dry, red and tender, but lotion containing aloe vera or coconut oil can help irritated skin heal quickly.

Managing side effects

Many pancreatic patients are diagnosed after the disease has already spread to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body. This metastasis may cause some pain and discomfort depending on where the cancer is located and which organs are affected. Some of the side effects can be managed with medication or other medical treatments, and simple dietary changes may also help some patients find relief.

Talk to your health care team about the details of your pain or discomfort so they can find the root of the problem and give you helpful advice. Abdominal pain is often the result of constipation or indigestion and is a common problem for patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer. You might be able to control your symptoms with over-the-counter medications or supplements, and physical therapy can also help strengthen your body and mind while improving your overall quality of life. If that doesn’t help, doctors can prescribe a medication or, in severe cases, inject a nerve block to intercept the pain signals.

Try eating smaller meals (rather than three large meals) and snacking more often during treatment. Also, avoid spicy food that can upset your stomach, and try yogurts that contain probiotics to replenish the enzymes you might lack as a result of your disease. Finally, make sure you’re drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated and to keep the food and medication you consume moving through your system.

Work it out

Regardless of where you are in your cancer journey, staying active will help you feel better while getting healthier. In addition to improving your physical health, exercise has also been shown to reduce anxiety, depression and fatigue. Physical activity will also help you reduce stress and boost your mood, offering drug-free relief for many of the emotional and physical side effects of cancer and its treatments. Whether you join a gym or walk around your neighborhood, find a way to get moving so that you feel better faster. It also helps to share your story with other cancer patients or a trained professional who can help you deal with all of the emotions that come with cancer.

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