Water is refreshing, good for you and essential for overall health – but it’s also something that people don’t always get enough of.

We asked Maria Petzel, senior clinical dietitian for the Pancreas Surgery Program at MD Anderson Cancer Center and a member of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s Scientific and Medical Advisory Board, why drinking water is important for cancer patients and for general tips on how to stay hydrated.

According to Petzel, there are many things that cancer patients undergoing treatment face that can lead to dehydration such as diarrhea, vomiting, poor appetite, taste changes and mouth sores. Also, post-surgical changes can trigger more frequent bowel movements and therefore, more fluid loss.

“Fluid helps the body clear toxins and waste products,” Petzel said. “Since cancer treatment causes the destruction of tumor cells – and other collateral damage – it creates an increase in waste that must be cleared from the body. Staying hydrated helps the body eliminate these waste products and toxins.”

Petzel also mentioned that additional benefits for patients who stay hydrated may include less fatigue and less itching (for those who are jaundiced).

She noted that people need an amount between 6 to 12 cups per day – a small sedentary person needs 6 cups of fluid per day, while a larger person or someone who is active needs 12 cups.

Tips to stay hydrated:

  • Start drinking as soon as you wake up in the morning. As people get older, many find themselves waking up to urinate in the middle of the night, which can be an obstacle to drinking more fluid. If you start drinking fluid in the morning and consume most of your fluids by late afternoon, you don’t need to drink as much in the evening. Try drinking 1 cup of fluid every hour staring at 8 a.m., and 8 cups will be consumed by 5 p.m.
  • There are alternatives to drinking water to stay hydrated. But if you are working on losing or maintaining weight, drinking water is the best option to avoid artificial flavors, sweeteners or refined sugars
  • Avoid alcohol if you’re at risk for dehydration
  • If you drink a moderate amount of caffeine, it will not cause dehydration. One cup of coffee or tea is okay and can count toward your total fluid intake
  • Try flavor infused waters. Prepare a pitcher of water in the refrigerator with your favorite fruits, vegetables and herbs each night – and enjoy the following day. Also, sparkling water hydrates just as well as flat water
  • Try “smart” water bottles or apps that help you regulate your water intake and encourage healthy drinking habits. Set alarms on your mobile phone or in your house to remind you to drink your daily intake.

Pancreatic cancer patients often have many questions and concerns about nutritional care. In addition to PanCAN’s PanCAN Patient Services, both MyPlate and AICR provide resources on healthy diets. A registered dietitian is also an important resource for cancer patients with dietary restrictions.

Contact a PanCAN Patient Services Case Manager
Contact PanCAN Patient Services for comprehensive information about living with pancreatic cancer, including diet and nutrition as well as resources to find a dietitian.

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