It is likely that the cancer itself and the treatment you get will cause symptoms and side effects. In this section, you’ll learn more about how to respond to some of the most common symptoms and side effects from treating pancreatic cancer.
You may not have all of these. We’ve listed them in alphabetical order so you can quickly find help when you need it.
Anemia (Low red blood cell levels)
Throughout your treatment, your doctor will take small samples of your blood for testing. One thing he or she is checking is your level of red blood cells. A low red blood cell count is called anemia. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. If your body does not have this oxygen, you may feel tired. Decreased red-blood-cell counts can be caused by blood loss, chemotherapy or radiation, or the cancer itself.
If your doctor tells you that you have anemia, take these actions to feel better.
Add mild exercise, such as walking, to your daily routine. It may help you sleep better, and can help increase your energy.
Anxiety and depression
Many people may feel blue, anxious, or distressed after being told they have cancer. This is normal, and these feelings may continue or come back throughout treatment.
Taking these actions may ease your mental stress.
Bleeding and Bruising
Certain kinds of chemotherapy may reduce your blood platelet count. Without enough platelets (which is called thrombocytopenia), your blood may have trouble clotting. Even a minor injury may cause you to bleed or bruise.
If your doctor tells you that your platelet count is low, take these actions to avoid causing injuries that could lead to uncontrolled bleeding.
This may be a side effect of chemotherapy or some pain medicines. Constipation includes difficult or infrequent bowel movements. It ranges from mildly uncomfortable to painful. Taking pain medications often leads to constipation, so it’s wise to take these preventive actions. These same steps may give you relief if you are already constipated.
Eat foods high in fiber, such as cereals, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
If your entire pancreas was removed, your body can no longer make the hormones insulin and glucagon. You’ll need to take these two hormones, as well as pancreatic enzymes, to help digested food get to the rest of your body. You’ll take these steps to manage diabetes.
This may be a side effect of chemotherapy or changes in digestion after surgery. Diarrhea includes loose or frequent bowel movements, or both. It may lead to dehydration if you don’t take these precautions. Many drugs can cause bowel changes.
Avoid gas-producing vegetables, dried fruit, fiber cereals, seeds, popcorn, nuts, corn, and beans.
Eat low-residue, low-fiber foods, such as those included in the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast).
Hair loss (alopecia)
Most chemotherapy drugs given to treat pancreatic cancer do not cause hair loss. But if you do lose your hair, it can be upsetting because baldness is a visible reminder that you are being treated for cancer. Keep in mind that your hair will grow back after treatment.
Try these coping tips.
Think about getting a wig, hat, or scarf before your hair loss starts. That way, you can get a wig that matches your hair and you’ll be ready with head coverings, if you choose to use them.
Throughout your treatment, your doctor will take small samples of your blood for testing. One thing he or she is checking for is your level of white blood cells. Many types of chemotherapy can cause low white blood cell counts. This condition is called neutropenia. Without enough white blood cells, your body may not be able to fight infection. If your doctor tells you that your white blood cell count is low, take these actions to stay healthy:
Mouth sores (mucositis)
Some types of chemotherapy may cause mouth sores. These may hurt and make eating an unpleasant experience.
To prevent sores in your mouth, take these actions.
To ease the pain if you get sores in your mouth, take these actions.
Nausea or vomiting
Nausea or vomiting as a result of chemotherapy, radiation treatment, or the cancer itself may range from barely noticeable to severe. It may help you to understand the different types of nausea.
Anticipatory nausea and vomiting are learned from previous experiences with vomiting. As you prepare for the next dose of chemotherapy, you may anticipate that nausea and vomiting will occur as it did previously, which triggers the actual reflex.
To prevent nausea, take these actions.
To help ease nausea or vomiting if you have it, try these tips.
Try eating foods and drinking beverages that were easy to take or made you feel better when you had the flu or were nauseated before. These might be bland foods, sour candy, pickles, dry crackers, ginger ale, flat soda, or others.
Numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness in your hands or feet (peripheral neuropathy)
If you have numbness, tingling, or weakness in your hands and feet, you may have nerve damage called peripheral neuropathy. This can be a side effect of some types of chemotherapy. Other signs of this problem are ringing in your ears or trouble feeling hot or cold. If you have symptoms such as these, take precautions to protect yourself.
Surgery to remove all or part of the pancreas can affect how your body digests food. So can any blockages caused by tumors. You may have problems digesting food. Your body may not absorb nutrients as well as it should. Try some of these steps to help the problem.
Skin dryness or irritation
This may be a side effect of radiation therapy. Follow these tips for relief.
Ask your doctor or nurse what kind of lotion you can use to moisturize and soothe your skin. Don’t use any lotion, soap, deodorant, sunblock, cologne, cosmetics, or powder on your skin within two hours after radiation treatment because they may cause irritation.
Thinking and remembering problems
You may have mild problems with concentration and memory during and after chemotherapy. Being tired can make this worse.
Taking these actions may help.
Tiredness or fatigue
Tiredness is a very common side effect of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments. Anemia (low red blood cell counts) can cause it. You may feel only slightly tired, or you may suffer from extreme fatigue that doesn't get better with rest. Taking these actions may help increase your energy level. Fatigue can last several weeks after treatment ends.
If your fatigue is severe, is getting worse, or lasts a long time, ask for help with routine tasks that can drain your energy, such as grocery shopping or housework. Some people reduce their hours at work..