Thumbnail image of: Pancreas: Illustration

Cancer of the Pancreas Discharge Information

What is cancer of the pancreas?

Pancreatic cancer is a growth of abnormal cells that form tumors in the pancreas. The pancreas is behind the stomach. It helps break down food so that the nutrients can be used by your body. The pancreas also makes hormones, such as insulin. The hormones help your body use and store the energy it gets from food. Pancreatic cancer most often starts in the tubes that carry pancreatic juices. If the cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it is still pancreatic cancer, and is called metastatic cancer.

There are different types and stages of pancreatic cancer based on what kind of cancer cells are found, where the tumor started, and where it has spread. Knowing your type and stage of pancreatic cancer helps your healthcare provider decide on the best treatment plan for you. The main goals of treatment are to kill the tumor cells, prevent a local cancer from spreading, and prevent metastatic cancer from spreading more than it already has.

Several things increase a person’s risk for pancreatic cancer, including:

  • Smoking
  • Long term irritation of the pancreas, often caused by alcohol abuse
  • Obesity
  • Eating a high fat diet
  • Family history of pancreatic cancer
  • Long term exposure to certain chemicals

How can I take care of myself when I go home?

How long it takes to get better depends on how advanced the cancer is, your treatment, how well you recover, your overall health, and any complications you may have.


  • Your provider will give you a list of your medicines when you leave the hospital.
    • Know your medicines. Know what they look like, how much you should take each time, how often you should take them, and why you take each one.
    • Take your medicines exactly as your provider tells you to.
    • Carry a list of your medicines in your wallet or purse. Include any nonprescription medicines and supplements on the list.
    • Talk to your provider before you use any other medicines, including nonprescription medicines.
  • Your provider may prescribe medicine to:
    • Treat pain
    • Treat or prevent an infection
    • Treat or prevent anemia, which means you have too few red blood cells to carry enough oxygen to your body. Anemia may be caused by your cancer, your treatment, or other problems.
    • Treat or prevent side effects, such as nausea or constipation, from other treatments
    • Reduce the acid in your stomach to help decrease acid indigestion
    • Help your immune system fight cancer
  • If you have had surgery, to care for your surgical wound:
    • Keep your surgical wound clean.
    • If you are told to change the dressing on your surgical wound, wash your hands before changing the dressing and after disposing of the dressing.
  • You may be given medicines, such as insulin, to keep your blood sugar controlled according to your healthcare provider’s recommendations. Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions for giving yourself insulin. Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions for adjusting your insulin dosage according to the results of blood sugar tests.
  • Ask your healthcare provider about the symptoms of high or low blood sugar and what to do to treat it.
  • Take care of your health. Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Eat a healthy diet and try to keep a healthy weight. If you smoke, try to quit. If you want to drink alcohol, ask your healthcare provider how much is safe for you to drink. Learn ways to manage stress. Exercise according to your healthcare provider’s instructions.
  • You may need other treatments for your cancer after you leave the hospital. Treatments may include:
    • Chemotherapy (anticancer drugs), which uses medicine to kill cancer cells. Different types of chemotherapy may be given in the hospital, outpatient clinic, or at home.
    • Radiation therapy, which uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. Radiation treatment may be done in the hospital or and outpatient clinic.


  • Follow your provider’s instructions for follow-up appointments and routine tests.
  • Keep appointments for all other testing you may need. Testing may include:
    • Blood tests to check for certain hormones, proteins, or chemicals that may be high if you have cancer.
    • Bone X-rays: Pictures of the inside of your bones to check for cancer
    • Chest X-ray: Pictures of the inside of your chest to check for cancer
    • Computed tomography (CT) scan: A series of X-rays taken from different angles and arranged by a computer to show thin cross sections of the belly and other areas where the cancer may have spread
    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A powerful magnetic field and radio waves are used to take pictures from different angles to show thin cross sections of the belly and other areas where the cancer may have spread
    • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: A series of detailed pictures that are taken after your healthcare provider injects a small amount of radioactive material into your blood. The scan shows areas where the radioactive material is being absorbed.

Call your healthcare provider if you have new or worsening:

  • Bloating or belly pain
  • Acid indigestion
  • Blood in your vomit
  • Blood sugar higher or lower than the levels set by your provider
  • Blood sugar that you cannot control with your usual treatments
  • Breath that smells fruity
  • Dark brown or black material in your vomit that looks like coffee grounds
  • Dehydration, which means losing too much fluid from your body
  • Depression
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Signs of infection around your surgical wound. These include:
    • Warmth, redness, or pain around your wound
    • The skin around your incision is very warm to touch
    • Blood, pus, or other fluid coming from the wound area
    • A fever higher than 101.5° F (38.6° C)
    • Chills or muscle aches
  • Ask your healthcare provider about any medicine, treatment, or information that you do not understand.

For more information:

Contact national and local organizations such as:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Acute Care Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-11-03
Last reviewed: 2014-10-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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