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RMC Bayonet Point

Lifestyle Changes to Manage Pancreatic Cancer

Lifestyle changes can be helpful in a variety of important ways:

  • Strengthening your body so that you can withstand some of the rigors of treatment.
  • Optimizing the function of your immune system to aid in the fight against cancer.
  • Improving your emotional outlook, so you can enjoy life to the fullest, even during treatment for pancreatic cancer.
  • Making healthy choices that will help you avoid other medical problems that could complicate your health.

Quit Smoking

Smoking is a known risk factor for many cancers. Although you may have already been diagnosed with cancer, it’s not too late to stop smoking. When you quit smoking, you reduce your risk of its many associated medical complications, which should improve your chances of withstanding the physical stresses of cancer and treatment. Also, since the immune system of smokers is generally less effective than nonsmokers, by quitting you may be adding to your immune system’s ability to join in the battle against cancer.

Ask your doctor about programs to help you stop smoking, such as group support, hypnosis, and nicotine replacement drugs.

Quit Drinking Alcohol

Alcohol use disorder is associated with pancreatitis. Chronic pancreatitis is a known risk for pancreatic cancer. If you have difficulty or cannot stop drinking, talk to your doctor. Several treatment methods are available to help you stop drinking.

Prevent Diabetes

Diabetes is a known risk factor for pancreatic cancer. You can help prevent diabetes with regular blood sugar testing by your doctor, especially if you have a strong family history for this condition. If you are diagnosed with prediabetes, follow a strict diet and exercise program to prevent it from progressing to diabetes.

Follow a Nutritious Diet

Eating a healthful diet may help you avoid other medical conditions linked to poor nutrition. Because cancer itself and some cancer treatments may have a dulling effect on your appetite, it’s important that you make the most of the calories you do take in. A registered dietitian can help you learn more about the best kinds of foods for you to eat and how to eat other, less healthy foods in moderation. Avoid making drastic changes in your diet based on the latest fad.

Increase Activity

If you have not been exercising regularly, check with your doctor to determine a safe exercise program under your current circumstances.

Exercise has many benefits that may help you withstand the physical and emotional stresses of cancer and cancer treatment, including:

  • Promoting overall fitness
  • Boosting your energy level
  • Improving your immune system functioning
  • Bolstering your spirits and improving your emotional outlook

You may consider consulting a personal trainer to help you set exercise goals and to safely follow through on initiating an exercise program. While incorporating exercise, be sure to balance rest and activities to prevent your becoming too tired.

Rest When Tired

The treatments for cancer can add to the fatigue you already feel from fighting cancer. In fact, fatigue is the most frequently experienced symptom of cancer and cancer treatments. The fatigue you feel can range from "just feeling tired" to complete and utter exhaustion. Wherever in this range you fall, you may find your fatigue quite distressing and affecting your quality of life.

It is important to allow your body time to rest. This will help your body have the strength to heal itself. Studies have shown a relationship between fatigue and an increased morbidity of cancer and cancer treatments as a result of fatigue's adverse effect on appetite, diminished quality of life, and loss of hope.

To help you avoid getting overtired, try not to do too much. Prioritize the things you need to do, and focus on the most important ones. Also, allow others to help you with daily chores, shopping, and preparing meals. Plan times throughout the day when you can rest.

Reduce Your Risk of Infection

To decrease your risk of infection, avoid exposure to bacteria and viruses:

  • Try to avoid crowds, especially during cold and flu season.
  • Ask your doctor about immunization against the flu and pneumonia.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and often. Hand washing is the most effective method of decreasing the chance of catching colds and flu. You may wish to carry hand sanitizer with you for occasions when washing is not convenient.

Seek Support

The diagnosis of cancer is a life-defining event that is difficult to handle for anyone. It's common to feel anxious about the impact of your diagnosis and treatment options. You do not have to face cancer alone. Get help from your family, friends, and your community, such as:

  • Religious community
  • Support groups for people with your type of cancer
  • Professional support from social workers, psychologists, and/or psychiatrists who are trained to help support cancer patients and their families

People who allow themselves to seek help while they are recovering from cancer often maintain better emotional control. This can help with facing the challenges of cancer and its treatment. Family and caregivers may also need support. Encourage them to seek support groups or counseling geared toward them.

Revision Information

  • De La Cruz MD, Young AP, Ruffin MT. Diagnosis and management of pancreatic cancer. Am Fam Physician. 2014;89(8):626-632.

  • Pancreatic cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: Accessed September 8, 2016.

  • Pancreatic cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated July 6, 2016. Accessed October 6, 2016.

  • Pancreatic cancer. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: Updated July 2014. Accessed September 8, 2016.