Discharge Instructions After Treatment for Cancer of the Pancreas

You've been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the out-of-control growth of abnormal cells in the pancreas. You may have had surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination of these. This sheet will help you know how to care for yourself after treatment.

Give yourself time and try to be patient with your body as it heals. Your healthcare team will teach you what to do at home. For instance, you'll learn how to take care of your skin and/or surgical site and what kind of problems you should watch for. Make sure you understand and follow any instructions you've been given by your cancer treatment team.

Home care after surgery

Here’s what to do at home after surgery for pancreatic cancer:

  • Follow the diet you discussed with your healthcare provider. Try to stick to a healthy, well-balanced diet.

  • Use pain medicine as directed. Ask about possible side effects and what you can do to manage them.

  • Avoid constipation: Eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and drink 6 to 8 glasses of water a day, unless directed otherwise. Use a laxative or a mild stool softener if your healthcare provider says it’s OK.

  • Check your temperature every day for a week after your surgery.

  • Be sure you understand what you can and can't do as you recover from surgery. Increase your activity slowly. Start with short walks on a level surface.

  • Don’t overdo it. Rest when you are tired. Fatigue and weakness are normal for a few weeks. This will get better over time.

  • Shower as needed unless directed otherwise. Ask a friend or family member to stay close by in case you need help.

  • Limit stair climbing to once or twice a day. Go slow and stop to rest every few steps.

  • Do deep breathing and controlled coughing exercises. Ask your healthcare provider for guidelines.

  • Don’t lift anything heavier than  5 pounds for  4 to 6 weeks after surgery.

  • Ask for help with chores and errands while you recover. Don't do any strenuous activities, such as mowing the lawn, using a vacuum cleaner, working out, or playing sports. Listen to your body. If an activity causes pain, stop.

  • If you ride in the car for more than short trips, stop often to stretch your legs. Don’t drive until you're no longer taking prescription pain medicine and your healthcare provider says it’s OK. This may take a few weeks.

  • Ask your healthcare provider when you can expect to return to work.

Here are some tips to care for your incision:

  • Keep your cut (incision) clean and dry. Wash it as directed by your healthcare team. Don't scrub it. Follow showering instructions from your healthcare provider. Don't soak in a tub, hot tub, or pool until your healthcare provider says it's OK.

  • Check your incision every day. Watch for redness, drainage, warmth, pain, and swelling. Also watch the edges of the incision to be sure it's not opening up.

  • Change the dressing as instructed. Contact your healthcare team if you have questions about your dressings.

  • If you have surgical drains, measure and record the fluid output before emptying them. Take the records to your follow-up appointment. Talk with your healthcare team if you have any questions about how to empty your drains.

Home care after chemotherapy

Here’s what to do at home after chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer:

Prevent or manage mouth sores

Many people get mouth sores during chemo. So, don’t be discouraged if you do, even if you're following all your healthcare provider’s instructions. Do these things to help prevent mouth sores or to ease discomfort:

  • Brush your teeth with a soft-bristle toothbrush after every meal and at bedtime.

  • If your platelet count is low or if your gums are inflamed, flossing may cause gum bleeding. Ask if you need to limit flossing.

  • Use an oral swab or special soft toothbrush if your gums bleed during regular brushing.

  • Use any mouthwashes given to you as directed. Don't use mouthwash that contains alcohol.

  • Keep your mouth moist. Use salt and baking soda to clean your mouth. Mix  1/8 teaspoon (s) of salt and  1/4 teaspoon (s) of baking soda into an  8-ounce glass ( 1 cup ) of warm water. Swish and spit.

  • Watch your mouth and tongue for white patches. This can be a sign of fungal or yeast infection, common side effects of chemo. Be sure to tell your healthcare provider about these patches. You may need medicine to treat the infection.

  • If you have dentures, keep them clean and limit the time you wear them.

Manage other side effects

Here are some tips to help you manage other side effects:

  • Try to exercise. Exercise keeps you strong and keeps your heart and lungs active. It helps you feel less tired. Talk to your healthcare team about exercises that are safe for you.

  • Let your healthcare provider know if your throat is sore. You may have an infection that needs treatment.

  • Remember, many people feel sick and lose their appetite during chemo. Eat small meals several times a day to keep your strength up.

    • Choose bland foods with little taste or smell.

    • Cook all food thoroughly. This kills bacteria and helps you avoid infection.

    • Eat soft foods. They're less likely to cause irritation.

    • Talk to your healthcare provider if you're having trouble getting enough foods or liquids.

  • Use anti-nausea medicines as needed. Take them as soon as you feel nauseated. Don't wait until you start vomiting.

  • Keep clean. During treatment, your body can't fight germs very well.

    • Take short baths or showers with warm water. Don't use very hot or cold water.

    • Use moisturizing soap. Treatment can make your skin dry.

    • Use lotion several times a day to help relieve dry skin.

Home care after radiation therapy

Here’s what to do at home after radiation therapy for pancreatic cancer:

Skin care 

Do's and don'ts include:

  • Don’t scrub the treated area.

  • Do ask your therapy team which lotions or other products are OK to use.

  • Don't get sun on the treated area or use tanning beds. Ask your therapy team about using sunscreen.

  • Don’t remove ink marks unless your radiation therapist says it’s OK.

  • Do protect your skin from heat or cold. Don't use hot tubs, saunas, heating pads, or ice packs.

  • Do wear soft, loose clothing to keep your skin from rubbing.

  • Don’t be surprised if your treatment causes burns to your skin that look like sunburn. Ask for a special cream to help relieve the burn and protect your skin.

  • Don't shave the area unless your provider says it's OK.

Other home care

Tips include:

  • Stock up on easy-to-prepare foods.

  • Eat foods high in protein and calories as directed by your healthcare team.

  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids unless you are told otherwise.

  • Ask your healthcare provider before taking any vitamins, herbs, supplements, or over-the-counter medicines.

  • Be prepared for hair loss and sunburn-like skin irritation in the area being treated.

  • If your mouth or throat becomes dry or sore, sip cool water. Ice chips may also help.

Follow-up care

Make a follow-up appointment as directed.

When to call your healthcare provider

Talk with your healthcare provider about problems you should watch for. Call right away if you have any of the following:

  • Chest pain

  • Fever of  100.4° F ( 38.0°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Chills

  • Any unusual bleeding or bruising

  • Signs of infection around the incision (redness, swelling, drainage, warmth, or pain)

  • Incision opens up or the edges pull apart

  • Cloudy thinking or trouble concentrating

  • Ongoing or worsening fatigue

  • Shortness of breath, especially at rest or while talking or eating

  • Trouble breathing

  • Rapid, irregular heartbeat

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

  • Constant feeling of being cold

  • New or unusual lumps, bumps, or swelling

  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes; light-colored stools

  • Ongoing nausea or vomiting

  • Ongoing diarrhea

  • Trouble urinating, pain with urination, or changes in how your urine looks or smells

  • New redness, pain, swelling, or warmth in a leg or arm

Be sure you know what number to call if you have problems or questions after office hours or on weekends or holidays.

Online Medical Reviewer: Jessica Gotwals BSN MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Kimberly Stump-Sutliff RN MSN AOCNS
Online Medical Reviewer: Todd Gersten MD
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2022
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