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Pancreatic Cancer


Pancreatic cancer

starts in the pancreas. The pancreas is located just behind the stomach. It helps digest food by making enzymes. The pancreas also makes hormones, such as insulin, to help balance blood sugar levels.


Common symptoms include the following:

  • Abdominal or low back pain
  • Weight loss without trying
  • Loss of appetite, nausea, or vomiting
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Dark urine or light-colored bowel movements
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes)

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • You suddenly feel lightheaded and short of breath.
  • You cough up blood.

Seek care immediately if:

  • Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • Your pain does not get better, even after you take pain medicine.
  • Your abdomen is larger than usual.
  • You have new or worsening nausea or are vomiting.
  • You have diarrhea, light-colored or oily, foul-smelling bowel movements.
  • You have new or worsening weight loss, jaundice, or back pain.
  • You feel depressed, anxious, or unable to cope with your condition.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Treatment for pancreatic cancer

may include any of the following:

  • Medicines may be given to decrease pain or other symptoms. You may need pancreatic enzyme medicine to help your body digest protein, carbohydrates, and fats in your food. You may also need insulin to control your blood sugar level.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him or her if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.
  • Radiation therapy uses x-rays or gamma rays to treat cancer. Radiation kills cancer cells and may stop the cancer from spreading. It is also used to reduce symptoms, such as pain.
  • Chemotherapy is medicine that kills cancer cells. Chemotherapy may also be used to shrink the tumor before surgery.
  • Targeted therapy is medicine given to kill cancer cells without harming healthy tissue.
  • Surgery is done to remove part or all of your pancreas and lymph nodes near your pancreas. It is most often done for tumors that have not spread to other parts of the body. The kind of surgery you need will depend on the size and location of the tumor.


  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause lung damage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Eat small meals throughout the day. You may not feel hungry, but it is important that you eat. Proper nutrition can give you more energy, maintain your weight, and help you feel better. A dietitian can help you find ways to get enough protein, calories, vitamins, and minerals. Ask if you need to take a pancreatic enzyme supplement with meals to help with digestion.
  • Drink liquids as directed. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you. Drink extra liquids to prevent dehydration. You will also need to replace fluid if you are vomiting or have diarrhea from cancer treatments.
  • Limit or do not drink alcohol as directed. Alcohol can make it difficult to manage your symptoms or side effects of treatment. Ask your oncologist if it is safe for you to drink alcohol. Also ask how much is safe for you to drink.
  • Exercise as directed. Exercise may increase your energy level and appetite. Ask your healthcare provider how much exercise you need and which exercises are best for you.

For more information and support:

It may be difficult for you and your family to go through cancer and cancer treatments. Join a support group or talk with others who have gone through treatment.

  • American Cancer Society
    250 Williams Street
    Atlanta , GA 30303
    Phone: 1- 800 - 227-2345
    Web Address:
  • National Cancer Institute
    6116 Executive Boulevard, Suite 300
    Bethesda , MD 20892-8322
    Phone: 1- 800 - 422-6237
    Web Address:

Follow up with your oncologist as directed:

You will need to return for more tests. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2018 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about Pancreatic Cancer (Ambulatory Care)

Associated drugs

IBM Watson Micromedex

Symptoms and treatments

Mayo Clinic Reference