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Pancreatic cancer

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From MayoClinic.com


Although it's not always possible to prevent pancreatic cancer, these lifestyle changes may help reduce your risk:

  • Quit smoking. The single most important thing you can do to prevent pancreatic cancer is to stop smoking. Cigarette smoke contains carcinogens that can damage the DNA that regulates cell growth. Talk to your doctor about the best ways to quit, or contact the American Cancer Society for more information.

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight increases your risk of pancreatic cancer. If you need to lose weight, keep in mind that a slow, steady loss is the healthiest way to reach your goals. Aim for no more than 1 to 2 pounds a week. Add 30 minutes of aerobic exercise — such as walking, jogging or biking — on most days, and you can double the amount of weight you lose.

  • Exercise regularly. Experts believe that getting even a moderate amount of exercise every week can cut your risk of pancreatic cancer. For overall health, aim for 30 minutes of exercise on most days. If you're not used to exercising, start out slowly and work up to your goal.

  • Eat a healthy diet. A diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in animal fat can reduce your risk of pancreatic cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day, along with six servings of foods from other plant sources such as breads, cereals, rice and beans. In addition, try to limit fats to no more than 30 percent of your total calories. Only 10 percent of your calories should come from saturated fats.


Poor appetite, weight loss and muscle wasting are often problems for people with pancreatic cancer. These symptoms may be compounded by cancer treatments as well as by the emotional toll of living with the disease. For that reason, your doctor may recommend talking to a registered dietitian. He or she can help you find ways to get the nourishment you need.

These suggestions also may help:

  • Consider omega-3 fatty acids. Talk to your doctor or dietitian about supplementing your diet with omega-3 fatty acids, a component of fish oil. One study showed that omega-3 fatty acids increased weight gain and muscle mass in people with pancreatic cancer.

  • Reduce the size of your meals. Try eating several small meals throughout the day instead of two or three larger ones. If you're nauseous, choose foods that are soothing and easy-to-digest, such as soups, rice or a plain baked potato.

  • Restrict dietary fat. Follow your doctor's recommendations for reducing fat in your diet. Pancreatic cancer affects your body's ability to digest fats.

  • Consider other supplements. With pancreatic cancer, your body can't easily absorb nutrients. Talk to your doctor about vitamin and mineral supplements.

  • Have nourishing snacks within easy reach. That way, you're more likely to eat. Fresh fruit, nonfat yogurt or carrot sticks are all good choices.

  • Don't worry if you have days when you can't eat at all. In the meantime, do whatever you can to make yourself feel better. Let your doctor know if you don't feel better in a couple of days.

  • Try to drink plenty of fluids. Water is essential for your body's proper functioning.

Coping skills

Learning you have any life-threatening illness can be devastating. But coping with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer can be especially difficult. The more advanced the disease when it's discovered, the less likely the chance of real recovery. As a result, you may feel especially overwhelmed just when you need to make crucial decisions. Although there are no easy answers for people dealing with pancreatic cancer, some of the following suggestions may help:

  • Learn all you can about your illness. Learn everything you can about pancreatic cancer — how the disease progresses, your prognosis and your treatment options, including both experimental and standard treatments and their side effects. Be sure you understand whether a particular approach is used to treat cancer or provide palliative care. Don't be afraid to seek a second opinion and to explore treatments available through clinical trials. You will have many decisions to make in the weeks and months ahead. The more you know, the more active a role you can take in the decision-making process.

  • Maintain a strong support system. Strong relationships are crucial to dealing with life-threatening illnesses. Although friends and family can be your best allies, in some cases they may have trouble dealing with your illness. Or you may not have a large social network. If so, the concern and understanding of a counselor, medical social worker, pastoral or religious counselor, or even a formal support group can be helpful. Although support groups aren't for everyone, they can sometimes be a good resource for practical information about your disease. You may also find strength and encouragement in being with people who are facing the same challenges you are. If you're interested in learning more about support groups, talk to a doctor, nurse, social worker or psychologist. They may be able to put you in touch with a group in your area. Or check your local phone book, library or cancer organization.

  • Come to terms with your illness. Coming to terms with your illness may be the hardest thing you've ever done. For some people, having a strong faith or a sense of something greater than themselves makes this process easier. Others seek counseling from someone who understands life-threatening illnesses, such as a medical social worker, psychologist or chaplain. Many people also take steps to ensure that their end-of-life wishes are known and respected.

In fact, the greatest fear of many people with a life-threatening illness is being subjected to treatments they don't want or spending their last weeks or months in a hospital away from loved ones and familiar surroundings. The welcome news is that many choices exist for people with a terminal illness.

Hospice care, for example, provides a special course of treatment to terminally ill people. This allows family and friends — with the aid of nurses, social workers and trained volunteers — to care for and comfort a loved one at home or in hospice residences. It also provides emotional, social and spiritual support for people who are ill and those closest to them. Although most people under hospice care remain in their own homes, the program is available anywhere — including nursing homes and assisted-living centers. For people who stay in a hospital, palliative care specialists can provide comfort, compassionate care and dignity.

Although it can be extremely difficult, discuss end-of-life issues with your family and medical team. Part of this discussion will likely involve advance directives — a general term for oral and written instructions you give concerning your medical care should you become unable to speak for yourself.

Complementary and alternative medicine

More and more people are interested in nontraditional approaches to healing, especially when standard treatments produce intolerable side effects or aren't able to provide a cure. In general, alternative medicine refers to therapies, such as mistletoe or coenzyme Q-10, that may be used instead of conventional treatments. Complementary or integrative medicine, on the other hand, usually means therapies used in conjunction with traditional treatments.

Rather than simply addressing a problem with the body, complementary and alternative treatments often focus on the entire person — body, mind and spirit. As a result, they can be especially effective at reducing stress, alleviating the side effects of conventional treatments such as chemotherapy and improving quality of life.

Pancreatic cancer > 1 > 2 > 3 > 4

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