Pancreatic Cancer Nutrition
Maintaining a healthy weight and good nutrition are essential to healing. It may be helpful to consult with a nutritionist or dietician because pancreatic cancer and the treatments can cause weight loss and loss of appetite.
The following steps may help with nutrition management during treatment:
- For bloating or difficulty eating larger meals, eat 5–6 small meals throughout the day; eating smaller amounts is easier for the body to digest and absorb. It can also help minimize nausea.
- Pancreatic cancers can block the pancreatic duct and damage pancreatic tissue, reducing the flow of digestive enzymes to the intestines. Replacement pancreatic enzymes, available by prescription, can be taken by mouth at meal-time and aid in food digestion.
- Anti-reflux medications may reduce the sensation of food rising in the throat.
Additional suggestions include:
- Eating foods that contain healthy fats and avoid greasy, fried foods.
- Eating a balanced diet with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and proteins.
- Avoiding excess sugar, sweets and carbohydrates.
- Drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
- Exercising regularly, even if it is a short walk.
- For underweight patients: relaxing restrictions on low-cholesterol and low-fat foods.
- For patients with a relatively stable or healthy weight: maintaining weight with a balanced diet.
Regular exercise coupled with a balanced diet that avoids carbohydrates can improve survival, and give you strength for day-to-day activities.
Cachexia is a common condition in later-stage pancreatic cancer patients. Cachexia causes muscle wasting, loss of appetite and unintentional weight loss. Patients experiencing cachexia might benefit from appetite stimulants such as omega-3 fatty acids, alone or in combination with other nutritional supplements.
To complement a balanced diet, emerging research demonstrates that preoperative exercise (or prehabilitation) can benefit patients who are receiving neoadjuvant treatment. Preclinical data from researchers at MD Anderson Cancer Center demonstrate that the prehabilitation program for pancreatic cancer patients at their facility could increase chemotherapy efficacy.
Nausea and Vomiting
Nausea and vomiting are common side effects of treatments for pancreatic cancer and usually stop when treatment ends. Pancreatic cancer, itself, also may cause nausea and vomiting.
Some tips for preventing nausea and getting adequate nutrition include:
- Eating foods that are easy to digest
- Avoiding fatty foods
- Eating small portions
- Eating frequently
- Avoiding smells that bring on nausea
- Eating food warm, not hot
- Resting after eating to allow the food to digest
- Wearing loose-fitting clothing
Vomiting can be controlled very effectively with the use of drugs called antiemetics. Contact your doctor if you experience vomiting after eating, severe vomiting, or if it lasts for more than a few days so anti-nausea medications can be prescribed.
Constipation is a common side effect of pain medications (usually opioids). These medications reduce the motility, or movement, of the intestines resulting in hard, dry stools. Stool softeners can help prevent constipation when an opioid is prescribed. Other things that can contribute to constipation are reduced activity, poor appetite and weakness. If you have constipation, notify your healthcare team as soon as possible.