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Lifestyle Changes to Manage Pancreatic Cancer
by Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD
Lifestyle changes can help:
Smoking increases the risk of complications from medical procedures and slows tissue healing. It can also cause further irritation to the pancreas, which may be healing from surgery.
When you quit smoking, the body immediately begins to repair itself. Quitting will help boost your immune system to help fight the cancer and improve recovery from treatment. It will also reduce your risk of future cancers.
Nutritional Support TOP
A good diet can affect your overall health, energy, mood, and ability to recover. Unfortunately, treatment of the cancer itself may decrease your appetite or make it difficult to eat. Consult with a registered dietitian (RD) about meal planning. Meal planning is an important step in helping you get the most nutrition out of your foods, and stop or slow unintended weight loss. To help you get the most out of the foods you eat, your doctor may prescribe medications that replace pancreatic enzymes.
A feeding tube may be needed to help deliver nutrition if you have problems eating. It allows nutritional mixes to be delivered directly to the stomach.
Reduce Your Risk of Infection TOP
Cancer and its treatments suppress the body's immune system. This can increase the risk of infection, or increase the severity of common infections, like a cold or the flu. To decrease the risk of infection while going through cancer treatment:
Exercise Regularly TOP
If you have not been exercising regularly, check with your doctor to choose safe exercises. Even light exercise has many benefits that may help you withstand the physical and emotional stresses of cancer and cancer treatment including:
Do not start an exercise program until you have been cleared by your doctor.
Manage Fatigue TOP
Fatigue is the most frequently experienced symptom of cancer and cancer treatments. This is especially true with pancreatic cancer. To help avoid getting overtired, prioritize tasks and focus on the most important ones. It is important to allow others to help you with daily chores, shopping, and preparing meals. If needed, plan time throughout the day for rest.
Fatigue will also be more pronounced without proper nutrition. Talk to your doctor if fatigue is affecting quality of life.
Seek Support TOP
The diagnosis of cancer is a life-defining event that can be difficult to handle. Facing the uncertainty of a serious disease, feeling anxious about how you will feel during treatment, lifestyle changes, and worrying about the impact of both the diagnosis and treatment can be overwhelming. It is important to rely on family, friends, and other people in your life. People who allow themselves to seek help while they are recovering from cancer can often maintain better emotional balance. Other sources of support include:
Family and caregivers may also need support. Encourage them to seek support groups or counseling geared toward them.
Comfort Measures TOP
Pancreatic cancer is especially difficult because it is usually found in advanced stages, making it harder to treat. Some people choose treatments to ease cancer complications or choose to stop treatment completely. Depending on your circumstances, it may be realistic to begin end-of-life planning. Considerations may include:
If you need guidance, talk to a member of your healthcare team. You can be referred to a trained professional to guide you through the process.
Advance directives. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/finding-and-paying-for-treatment/understanding-financial-and-legal-matters/advance-directives.html. Accessed March 20, 2017.
Living well during treatment. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/survivorship-during-and-after-treatment/staying-active.html. Accessed March 20, 2017.
Pancreatic cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114527/Pancreatic-cancer. Updated July 6, 2016. Accessed March 20, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2017 by Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 3/20/2017
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