Pancreatic Cancer

Side Effects

The side effects of pancreatic cancer treatment depend mainly on the type and extent of the treatment. Also, they may not be the same for each person, and they may even change from one treatment to the next. Doctors monitor patients closely so they can help with any problems that occur. Doctors and nurses can explain the possible side effects of pancreatic cancer treatment and suggest ways to help relieve symptoms that may occur during and after treatment.

It is hard to limit the effects of pancreatic cancer therapy so that only cancer cells are removed or destroyed. Because treatment also damages healthy cells and tissues, it often causes unpleasant side effects.

Pancreatic Cancer Surgery Side Effects

Surgery for cancer of the pancreas is a major operation. The side effects of surgery depend on the extent of the operation, the person's general health, and other factors. Although patients often have pain during the first few days after surgery, their pain can be controlled with medicine. People should feel free to discuss pain relief with the doctor or nurse.

It is also common for patients to feel tired or weak for a while. The length of time it takes to recover from an operation varies for each person.

During recovery from surgery, a patient's diet and weight are checked carefully. At first, patients may be fed only liquids and may be given extra nourishment by IV. Foods are added gradually.

When the entire pancreas is removed, and even sometimes when only part of the pancreas is removed, people with pancreatic cancer may not have enough pancreatic juices or hormones. When a patient does not have enough pancreatic juices, problems with digestion may occur. The doctor can suggest an appropriate diet and prescribe medicine to help relieve diarrhea or other problems such as pain, feelings of fullness, or cramping. Patients who do not have enough pancreatic hormones may develop other problems. For example, those who do not have enough insulin may develop diabetes. The doctor can treat this problem by giving patients hormones as part of their pancreatic cancer therapy to replace those no longer produced by the pancreas.

Radiation Therapy Side Effects for Pancreatic Cancer

With pancreatic cancer radiation therapy, the side effects depend on the treatment dose and the part of the body that is treated. During radiation therapy people are likely to become very tired, especially in the later weeks of treatment. Getting plenty of rest is important.

It is common to lose hair in the treated area and for the skin to become red, tender, and itchy. There may be permanent darkening or "bronzing" of the skin in the treated areas. This area should be exposed to the air as much as possible but protected from the sun, and it is important to avoid wearing clothes that rub. Patients will be shown how to take care of the treated area. Lotion or cream should not be used on the treated skin without the doctor's advice.

Radiation therapy to the pancreas and nearby tissues and organs may cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or problems with digestion. Usually, the doctor can suggest certain diet changes or medicine to treat or control these problems. In most cases, side effects go away when pancreatic cancer treatment is over.

Side Effects of Chemotherapy for Pancreatic Cancer

The side effects of pancreatic cancer chemotherapy depend mainly on the specific drugs and the doses received. As with other types of pancreatic cancer treatment, side effects also vary from person to person. Generally, anticancer drugs affect cells that divide rapidly. These include blood cells, which fight infection, help the blood to clot, or carry oxygen to all parts of the body. When blood cells are affected, people are more likely to get infections, may bruise or bleed easily, and may have less energy. Cells in hair roots and cells that line the digestive tract also divide rapidly. As a result, people may lose their hair and may have other side effects such as poor appetite, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, or mouth sores. Usually these side effects go away gradually during the recovery periods between treatments or after pancreatic cancer treatment is over.

Pancreatic Cancer Side Effects of Biological Therapy

The side effects caused by biological therapy vary with the type of treatment. These pancreatic cancer treatments may cause flu-like symptoms such as chills, fever, muscle aches, weakness, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Patients also may bleed or bruise easily, get a rash, or have swelling. These problems can be severe, but they usually go away after the treatment stops.

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