Discharge Instructions After Treatment for Cancer of the Pancreas

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

  • Use pain medicines as needed.

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

  • Increase your activity slowly. Start with short walks on a level surface.

  • Don’t over-do it. If you get tired, rest.

  • Shower as needed. 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 (2.27 kg) 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 often to stretch your legs. Don’t drive until your healthcare provider says it’s OK.

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

Here are some tips to care for your incision:

  • Wash the incision site with soap and water, and pat dry. Don't scrub it.

  • Check your incision site every day. Watch for redness, drainage, swelling, or opening of the skin.

  • Change the dressing as instructed.

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

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. You may 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 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 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 help you fight the fungal 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. Walk as much as you can comfortably.

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

  • Remember, many patients feel sick and lose their appetite during treatment. 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 are less likely to cause irritation.

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

  • Use antinausea medicines as needed. 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 lotion to use.

  • Don't get 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 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 slight burns to your skin. Some medicines 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

Tips include:

  • Stock up on easy-to-prepare foods.

  • Eat foods high in protein and calories.

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

  • Ask your healthcare provider before taking any vitamins or supplements.

  • 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 call your healthcare provider

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

  • Any chest pain

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

  • Chills

  • Any unusual bleeding

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

  • Incision that opens up or pulls apart

  • Cloudy thinking or trouble concentrating

  • Ongoing fatigue

  • Shortness of breath, especially at rest

  • Trouble breathing

  • 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 vomiting

  • Persistent diarrhea

  • New redness, pain, swelling, or warmth in your leg(s) or arm(s)

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