Getting the proper nutrition by choosing the right foods is an important way for patients with pancreatic cancer to feel healthy and strong. It may also help patients better tolerate treatment.
People with pancreatic cancer also often experience dietary/nutritional challenges such as appetite loss, weight loss, difficulty digesting food, diarrhea and even changes in taste.
Making the healthiest choices possible to maintain good nutrition can help patients minimize the side effects of treatment, recover from surgery and/or maintain the best quality of life. Read more about these challenges and helpful ways to overcome them:
Appetite Loss: Surgery, prescription drugs or the cancer itself can decrease a patient’s appetite. Light exercise, sleep and staying hydrated are just a few of the strategies that may help improve poor appetite and interest in eating.
Weight Loss: Losing weight is a common problem in individuals with pancreatic cancer. It can be associated with treatment or with the cancer itself. Side effects or symptoms such as loss of appetite, malabsorption of nutrients from foods and nausea and vomiting can cause a patient to consume fewer calories than the body needs to maintain an appropriate weight.
Tumor-induced weight loss also affects the way the body uses calories and protein. Consult with a registered dietitian for nutrition counseling, plan to eat 6-8 times per day and try to eat calorie-rich, nutrient-dense foods to help control weight loss.
Malabsorption: A pancreas that is functioning normally produces pancreatic enzymes, which aid digestion by breaking down fats, proteins and carbohydrates. It also produces bicarbonate, which helps neutralize stomach acid.
Pancreatic enzyme insufficiency is the inability of the pancreas to produce these necessary enzymes and is very common among patients with pancreatic cancer. In these cases, patients may experience side effects such as cramping after meals, large amounts of gas and unexplained weight loss. Patients are recommended to consult a registered dietitian and get access to pancreatic enzymes that can help with these symptoms.
Diarrhea: Many patients experience diarrhea, which is abnormally frequent bowel movements that are more fluid than usual. This may be due to a variety of factors including treatment, the cancer itself, infection and malabsorption.
To help combat this side effect, it is important to choose foods that are low in fat and those that contain soluble fiber such as oat fiber. High-pectin foods like applesauce and bananas are also less likely to be aggravating. Be sure to discuss dietary changes with your doctor to lessen the chances of developing diarrhea.
Taste Changes: Changes to a person’s sense of taste and smell can accompany the onset of pancreatic cancer or treatments, particularly chemotherapy. These changes are especially common in patients who have received platinum-based drugs, such as Eloxatin® (oxaliplatin) and Platinol® (cisplatin).
Patients should focus on foods they like and avoid those that are unappealing. Using plastic cutlery can also minimize metallic tastes. Try sweetening foods that taste overly salty or consider adding salt, vinegar and/or lemon juice to overly sweet foods.
Be sure to talk to your doctor or dietitian before making any changes.