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Symptoms towards end of life

This information is for people in the last few months or weeks of life. You can read about managing the symptoms people with pancreatic cancer may get at an earlier stage here.

Advanced pancreatic cancer (cancer that has spread to other parts of the body) can cause some common symptoms, such as pain, weight loss and bowel problems. Your symptoms may change in the last months or weeks, and you may get new symptoms.

We have information about some of the common symptoms people with pancreatic cancer get in the last few months and how these can be managed. These include:

We also have information about symptoms people may get in the last few days.

Managing symptoms

Not everyone will get all of the symptoms we’ve included here. There are ways to manage most symptoms and improve the quality of your life for as long as possible. Some symptoms can develop quite quickly. Speak to your doctor or nurse about any symptoms, including any that get worse, or any new symptoms.

Your doctor or nurse will assess your symptoms and work out the best way to manage them. How symptoms are managed may be quite individual and will depend on your own situation and what is best for you.

If you need help with symptoms at night or over the weekend, your GP’s answer-phone will give you the number of the out of hours GP. Your local hospice may also have a 24 hour advice line, usually run by nurses, who will be able to help or tell you where to get help.  

In the last few weeks of your life, your healthcare team may give you medicines to keep at home for symptoms you may get in the future. These are sometimes called pre-emptive, anticipatory or just in case medicines. They are kept separately in a box or bag marked ‘just in case’, along with instructions for giving the medicines. If you need these medicines urgently, your nurse can give them to you. This can be helpful if you need treatment at night or at the weekend.

If you have any questions about symptoms you can discuss these with our specialist nurses on our free Support Line.

Complementary therapies to help deal with symptoms

Some people find that complementary therapies can help with symptoms. These therapies can help you to relax and feel better emotionally and physically, although they can’t treat the cancer. Read about some of the common complementary therapies available.

Always tell your healthcare team before starting a complementary therapy, as some may affect your treatment. And tell your complementary therapist about any treatments you are having.

Some hospices, hospitals and charities offer complementary therapies. Your doctor or nurse can tell you what is available in your area.

Questions to ask

  • How will my symptoms be managed?
  • What support is there for dealing with symptoms?
  • What can be done if my symptoms don’t improve, or get worse?
  • What should we do if my symptoms get worse at night or at the weekend?

More information

  • Macmillan Cancer Support and Marie Curie’s booklet, End of life: a guide, has information on general symptoms that people with cancer may get towards the end of their life.
  • Marie Curie  have a series of booklets for people who are dying, including information about managing symptoms and living with a terminal illness.

Read more about the care available and how to access it

Read about caring for a family member who is dying from pancreatic cancer

Find organisations that can support you towards the end of life

Information Standard

Published March 2018

Review date March 2020