Overcoming Poor Appetite from Pancreatic Cancer

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Poor appetite is a common nutritional challenge for patients with pancreatic cancer. Sometimes surgery, prescription drugs or the cancer itself can change the way food tastes or cause the patient’s appetite to decrease.

The following tips may help increase appetite and improve interest in eating:

  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Exercise lightly before meals to stimulate appetite.  Even a short walk may be invigorating.
  • Select enjoyable foods and foods that have a pleasant aroma.
  • Plan meals the day before eating them.  Have someone help plan and prepare meals.
  • Stay well hydrated. Drink 6-12 cups of clear liquids throughout the day.
  • Aim for 6-8 small meals and snacks per day.  Take advantage of the time of day when most hungry.
  • Eat meals and snacks at scheduled times, even if not hungry.
  • Substitute a meal with a nutritional supplement drink or a homemade smoothie made with protein powder. If you have been prescribed pancreatic enzymes, be sure to take them with these drinks.
    • Boost®, Ensure®, Carnation Breakfast Essentials® and/or Orgain® nutritional drinks add calories and protein.
    • Glucerna and/or Boost Glucose Control products may be appropriate for people with diabetes.
    • Benecalorie® and Beneprotein® add calories or protein when accompanying regular meals.
  • Place small bowls of nutritional snacks, such as nuts and fruits, in frequently-used areas of the home to encourage healthy snacking between meals.
  • Take anti-nausea medication at the first sign of queasiness or nausea.  Delay eating favorite foods if feeling nauseous.
  • Arrange food attractively:
    • Vary the colors of foods on a plate
    • Use garnishes such as lemon or lime wedges
  • Make mealtimes pleasing:
    • Add color to a place setting
    • Watch a favorite television show or movie
    • Play music in the room
  • Use a large plate and put small portions on it. By doing this, the amount of food may appear less overwhelming.
  • Manage taste changes if these are contributing to decreased appetite.
  • Marinate red meats before cooking if they taste strong.  Or, substitute red meat with fish, chicken, eggs, low-fat cheese or vegetarian alternatives.
  • Eat high-protein foods within an hour of taking them out of the refrigerator. High-protein foods, such as cheese, tuna, chicken, lean ham, egg salads, deviled eggs, milkshakes, eggnogs, puddings and custards, may taste better at room temperature.
  • Add fresh fruits to milkshakes, puddings, and custards to add flavor.
  • Perk up the taste and smell of food with seasonings or spices such as lemon juice, mint, basil and other herbs. Add sugar and salt to foods, if their intake is not restricted.

If poor appetite and weight loss persist, the doctor may prescribe medication to increase appetite. Some of these medications are listed below. It can take several weeks of use before appetite enhancement occurs, so take these medications as prescribed for at least a month to determine their effectiveness. Many of these medications have side effects that should be discussed with the doctor.

  • Megestrol acetate (Megace® or Megace ES®)
  • Dronabinol (Marinol®)
  • Steroids such as prednisone or dexamethasone
  • Anti-depressants such as mirtazapine (Remeron®)

We’re Here to Help

For more information on diet and nutrition or for free, in-depth and personalized resources and information on pancreatic cancer, contact a PanCAN Patient Services Case Manager.


Information provided by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, Inc. (“PanCAN”) is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or other health care services. PanCAN may provide information to you about physicians, products, services, clinical trials or treatments related to pancreatic cancer, but PanCAN does not recommend nor endorse any particular health care resource. In addition, please note any personal information you provide to PanCAN’s staff during telephone and/or email communications may be stored and used to help PanCAN achieve its mission of assisting patients with, and finding cures and treatments for, pancreatic cancer. Stored constituent information may be used to inform PanCAN programs and activities. Information also may be provided in aggregate or limited formats to third parties to guide future pancreatic cancer research and education efforts. PanCAN will not provide personal directly identifying information (such as your name or contact information) to such third parties without your prior written consent unless required or permitted by law to do so. For more information on how we may use your information, you can find our privacy policy on our website at https://www.pancan.org/privacy/.