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UCLA Agi Hirshberg Center for Pancreatic Diseases


Tips & Prevention

Tips and Prevention

While there are certain recognized risk factors, there is no sure way to prevent pancreatic cancer.

UCLA Pancreas Center - Patient Services Tips and PreventionAvoiding smoking, a major risk factor for pancreatic cancer, may reduce risk. Additionally, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a low-fat diet and exercising may also reduce several risk factors for pancreatic cancer.
 *Sources: National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society

Risk Factors for Pancreatic Cancer Include:

  • Age: Most pancreatic cancers occur in people over the age of 60.
  • Gender: More men are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer than women.
  • Race: African Americans are more likely than Asians, Hispanics or Caucasians to get pancreatic cancer.
  • Smoking: Smokers are two to three times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than nonsmokers.
  • Diabetes: Pancreatic cancer occurs more often in people who have diabetes than in people who do not.
  • Obesity and diet: Eating a high-fat diet is a risk factor for pancreatic cancer. Research has shown that obese and even overweight men and women have a higher risk of dying from pancreatic cancer.
  • Family history: A person’s chance of developing pancreatic cancer increases three-fold if a first-degree relative (mother, father, sister or brother) had pancreatic cancer. This risk increases even further the greater the number of first degree relatives who are affected. Melanoma that runs in families and certain hereditary forms of colon, breast and ovarian cancers are also associated with an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
  • Chronic pancreatitis: Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas, a painful disease of the pancreas. Some research suggests that having chronic pancreatitis may increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
  • Chemicals: Exposure to certain chemicals (such as pesticides, benzene, certain dyes and petrochemicals) may increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

Healthy Living Tips

Appetite Changes

  • If you can, eat foods high in protein several times a day. These foods include milk, cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, meat, fish, eggs, beans, peanut butter and nuts. Protein helps build and repair tissue, and cancer treatments cause you to use more protein than usual.
  • To maintain your weight, eat high-calorie foods such as margarine or butter, sugar, honey, jams, jellies, cream cheese, dried fruit, gravies or sauces, mayonnaise and salad dressing.
  • Get plenty of fluids to help control your body temperature and improve food elimination. In addition to water, fruit juices and other liquids, try gelatin, pudding, soups, fruit bars and ice cream.
  • Eat small meals throughout the day instead of 3 large ones.
  • Keep snacks handy to eat when you are hungry.
  • Eat with friends or play your favorite music at mealtime to boost your appetite.
  • Eat your biggest meal in the morning. Many people getting treatment for cancer
    find that this is when their appetite is greatest.
  • If you can, increase your activity level. Doing so may boost your appetite.
  • On days you do not feel like eating at all, do not worry about it. Try again the next day. If you find your appetite does not improve in several days, talk with your doctor or nurse.


  • Avoid milk and milk products.
  • Avoid gas-producing vegetables, dried fruit, fiber cereals, seeds, popcorn, nuts, corn and dried beans.
  • Eat low-residue, low-fiber foods such as those included in the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast).
  • Drink more fluids, such as water and broth, to prevent dehydration.


  • Take short rests when you feel tired. Avoid long naps during the day so that you can sleep well at night.
  • Add mild exercise, such as walking, to your daily routine. It may help you sleep better.
  • Save your energy for important tasks.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration leads to increased fatigue.
  • Take action to treat a poor appetite, because eating improperly can make you tired.
  • If your fatigue is severe or chronic, ask for help with routine tasks that can drain your energy, such as grocery shopping or housework. Some people reduce their hours at work.

Ascites (Fluid in the Abdomen)

  • Reduce the amount of sodium and restricting the intake of fluids can help, although this regimen may be unpleasant and difficult to follow.
  • Diuretics are medications that reduce the amount of water in the body. Although diuretics are effective and well tolerated in most people, they may cause unpleasant side effects in some people, including loss of sleep, skin problems, fatigue, low blood pressure, and problems with self-esteem.
  • If ascites is causing respiratory (breathing) problems or the diuretic treatments stops working, therapeutic paracentesis may be recommended.
  • Chemotherapy is appropriate only for people with certain cancers, such as lymphoma or breast and ovarian cancers; however, chemotherapy is used to manage ascites in rare cases.
  • In rare instances, surgery may be required, which involves placing a shunt (a device used to bypass or divert fluid from one place to another) or catheter (a small tube placed into a vein temporarily) to drain fluids from the abdomen.

Hair Loss (Alopecia)

  • Consider cutting your hair short before treatment starts.
  • Think about getting a wig, hat, or scarf before your hair loss starts. That way, you can get a wig that matches your hair, and you will be ready with head coverings, if you choose to use them.
  • Because your scalp may be more sensitive to temperature and sun, protect it with sunscreen and hats or scarves.

Mouth or Lip Sores (Mucositis)

  • Use lip balm or another lip moisturizer.
  • Use a soft toothbrush and brush your teeth after eating.
  • Use mouthwash that does not contain alcohol.
  • Keep your mouth and lips clean and moist.
  • Frequently rinse your mouth with warm salt water.
  • Avoid foods that might irritate your mouth such as spicy foods, orange juice and pretzels.
  • Use sugar-free candies or gums to increase moisture in your mouth.
  • Ask your doctor about topical mouth medications.
  • Take over-the-counter pain medication, such as Tylenol, if necessary.

Nausea and Vomiting

  • Ask your doctor about getting a prescription medicine to control nausea and vomiting. Then make sure you take it as directed. If you are vomiting and cannot take the medicine, call your doctor or nurse again.
  • If you have bothersome nausea and vomiting even though you are taking your medicine, call your doctor or nurse. Your medicine can be changed.
  • Try eating foods and drinking beverages that were easy to take or made you feel better when you’ve had the flu or were nauseated from stress. These may be bland foods, sour candy, pickles, dry crackers, ginger ale, flat soda or others.
  • Do not eat fatty or fried foods. The smells from hot foods may make your nausea worse.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse if he or she can help you learn a relaxation exercise.
  • This may make you feel less anxious and more in control and decrease your nausea.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse about using acupressure bands on your wrists, which may help decrease your nausea.


  • Take pain medications regularly; do not wait for your pain to become severe (take steps to avoid constipation, a common side effect of pain medications).
  • Change your activity level. See if you feel better if you rest more or move around more – either may help.
  • Distract yourself with music, funny videos or computer games.
  • Use relaxation techniques, such as yoga or meditation, or guided imagery exercises. Ask your doctor or nurse where you can learn more about these.
  • Perform light exercise.

Skin Dryness or Irritation

  • Protect your skin from sun exposure by wearing sunscreen of at least 15 SPF.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse what kind of lotion you can use to moisturize and soothe your skin.
  • Don’t use any lotion, soap, deodorant, sunblock, cologne, cosmetics or powder on your skin within 2 hours of treatment because they may cause irritation.
  • Wear loose, soft clothing over the treated area. Cotton underwear can help prevent further irritation.
  • Don’t scratch, rub or scrub treated skin. After washing, gently blot dry.
  • Don’t bandage skin with tape. If you must bandage it, use paper tape, and ask your nurse to help you place the dressings so that you can avoid irritation.
  • Don’t apply heat or cold to the treated area. Bathe only with lukewarm water.
  • Keep your nails well trimmed and clean.


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