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Discharge Instructions for Cancer of the Pancreas

You have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in the pancreas. Treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination of these three. This sheet helps you remember how to care for yourself after treatment.

Home care after surgery

Here’s what to do at home following surgery for pancreatic cancer.

Activity

  • Increase your activity gradually. Take short walks on a level surface.

  • Don’t overexert yourself to the point of fatigue. If you become tired, rest.

  • Shower as needed. Ask a friend or family member to stand close by in case you need help.

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

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

  • Don’t mow the lawn or push a vacuum cleaner.

  • If you ride in the car for more than short trips, stop frequently to stretch your legs. Don’t drive until your doctor says it’s okay.

  • Ask your doctor when you can expect to return to work.

Incision care

  • Wash the incision site with soap and water and pat dry. Avoid scrubbing the incision.

  • Inspect the incision site every day for increased redness, drainage, swelling, or separation of the skin.

Other home care

  • Take your medications exactly as directed.

  • Don’t take any over-the-counter supplements or herbal medications unless your doctor says it’s okay.

  • Check your temperature every day for 1 week after your surgery.

  • Return to your diet as tolerated. Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.

  • If you have surgical drains, measure and record the fluid output before emptying them. Take the record of drain output to any follow-up appointment.

Home care after chemotherapy

Here’s what to do at home following chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer. 

Prevent mouth sores

Many people get mouth sores during chemotherapy. So, don’t be discouraged if you do, even if you are following all your doctor’s instructions. Do the following to help prevent mouth sores or to ease discomfort.

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

  • Don’t use dental floss if your platelet count is below 50,000. Your doctor or nurse will tell you if this is the case.

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

  • Use any mouthwashes given to you as directed.

  • If you can’t tolerate regular methods, use salt and baking soda to clean your mouth. Mix 1 teaspoon(s) of salt and 1 teaspoon(s) of baking soda into an 8-ounce glass of warm water. Swish and spit.

  • Watch your mouth for white patches. This is a sign of fungal infection, a common side effect of chemotherapy. Be sure to tell your doctor about these patches. Medication can be prescribed to help you fight the fungal infection.

Manage other side effects

  • Try to exercise. Exercise keeps you strong and keeps your heart and lungs active. Walk as much as you can without becoming dizzy or weak.

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

  • Remember, many patients feel sick and lose their appetites during treatment. Eat small meals several times a day to keep your strength up.

    • Choose bland foods with little taste or smell if you are reacting strongly to food.

    • Be sure to cook all food thoroughly. This kills bacteria and helps you avoid infection.

    • Eat foods that are soft. They are less likely to cause stomach irritation.

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

    • Take short baths or showers with warm water. Avoid very hot or cold water.

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

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

Home care after radiation therapy

Here’s what to do at home following radiation therapy for pancreatic cancer.

Skin care 

  • Don’t scrub or use soap on the treated area.

  •  

  • Ask your therapy team which lotion to use.

  • Avoid sun on the treated area. Ask your therapy team about using a sunscreen.

  • Don’t remove ink marks unless your radiation therapist says it’s okay. Don’t scrub or use soap on the marks when you wash. Let water run over them and pat them dry.

  • Protect your skin from heat or cold. Avoid hot tubs, saunas, heating pads, and ice packs.

  • Wear soft, loose clothing to avoid rubbing your skin.

  • Don’t be surprised if your treatment causes slight burns to your skin. Some drugs used in high doses can cause this to happen. Ask for a special cream to help relieve the burn and protect your skin.

Other home care

  • Stock up on easy-to-prepare foods.

  • Eat foods high in protein and calories.

  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids, unless directed otherwise.

  • Ask your doctor before taking any vitamins.

  • 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 by our staff.

 

When to seek medical care

Call your doctor right away if you have any of the following:

  • Any chest pain

  • Fever of 100.4°F  (38.0°C) or higher, or chills

  • Any unusual bleeding

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

  • Incision that opens up or pulls apart

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Ongoing fatigue

  • Shortness of breath

  • Rapid, irregular heartbeat; chest pain

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

  • Constant feeling of being cold

  • New or unusual lumps, bumps, or swelling

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

  • Persistent nausea or diarrhea

 

Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Online Medical Reviewer: Welch, Annette, MNS, OCN
Last Review Date: 3/25/2014
© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.