There are a number of side effects that you might face during pancreatic cancer treatment, although different patients can have different experiences. Some people notice only short-term fatigue during chemotherapy, while other people have more challenging recoveries after surgical treatment. The specific type (or types) of pancreatic cancer treatment that you choose, as well as your body’s unique response to therapy, can have a significant impact on the side effects that you experience.
Side effects of surgery
If you have surgery to remove part or all of your pancreas, you can expect to spend several weeks or months recovering from your procedure. Minimally invasive surgery tends to cause fewer side effects, while traditional (open) surgery often involves a longer recovery time. More complex procedures, such as a total pancreatectomy, may also have more complications than less extensive forms of pancreatic cancer treatment.
After pancreatic cancer surgery, you may experience diarrhea, constipation and/or appetite loss while your stomach regains its function. You may also have some pain at the site of your incision. You will need to learn how to clean your tubes and surgical dressing before you go home. And, while a highly experienced surgeon can help reduce your risk of surgical complications, you’ll need to be watchful for any potential signs of infection as you heal. Other potential side effects of surgery include pneumonia, cardiac problems and pulmonary embolism.
Side effects of chemotherapy
While chemotherapy medications are designed to destroy pancreatic cancer cells, they can also damage healthy cells at the same time. As a result, you might experience side effects such as:
- Hair loss
- Dry or itchy skin
- Sores on your mouth or gums
As your body works to repair any damage to healthy cells, you may find yourself feeling unusually fatigued. Additionally, chemotherapy can also cause your white blood cell count to drop, making you more prone to infection while you undergo pancreatic cancer treatment.
Side effects of radiation therapy
While radiation therapy does not hurt, it can cause certain side effects. For instance, you may find that the skin on your abdomen becomes red and tender as a result of the radiation exposure. You might also experience appetite loss, diarrhea or nausea. However, these symptoms should go away within one to two weeks after your pancreatic cancer treatment is completed.
At Moffitt Cancer Center, we’re committed to supporting our patients at every stage of the pancreatic cancer treatment process. This means providing a full spectrum of integrative medicine and supportive care services, such as nutritional counseling and pain management services, both during and after treatment.