Managing dietary problems

Pancreatic cancer and treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy and targeted therapy, can affect your ability to eat, digest and absorb food. This can have a significant impact on nutrition.

Common problems include:

  • weight loss
  • poor appetite and feeling full quickly
  • changes in taste and smell
  • diarrhoea or other changes in bowel habits
  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • poor digestion (maldigestion) and absorption (malabsorption) of fats and proteins caused by a lack of pancreatic enzymes
  • diabetes caused by inadequate insulin production.

Here we offer general suggestions about how to manage these problems. What you can eat and drink will depend on your individual circumstances. People who have a Whipple procedure may have many questions and concerns about their diet following the surgery.

Dietitians are experts in nutrition who can give you specialist advice on how to cope with nutrition-related problems and eating difficulties throughout different phases of the disease. Find out ways to find a dietitian.

Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 to speak to a Cancer Connect volunteer who has had a similar cancer experience, or see Nutrition and Cancer.

Learn more about:

Nutritional supplements

If you can’t eat a balanced diet or are losing too much weight, your doctor or dietitian may suggest nutritional supplements such as Sustagen Hospital Formula, Ensure, Fortisip and Resource. These contain energy, protein and other nutrients. Glucose powder supplements provide little nutrition and are rarely recommended.

Nutritional supplements should be taken in addition to your usual meals, i.e. as snacks between meals. They are available ready-made as drinks or bars, or in powdered form that can be mixed with milk, water and food. Ask a dietitian where to buy supplements, and to advise you on the type and quantity.

Seeing a dietitian

Dietitians work in all public and most private hospitals. There may be a dietitian connected to your cancer treatment centre – check with your specialist or cancer care coordinator.

The Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) can also help you locate an Accredited Practising Dietitian who works in your area and specialises in cancer or has experience with particular clinical conditions.

If your GP refers you to a dietitian, you may be eligible for a Medicare rebate. Most private health insurers provide a rebate depending on your type and level of cover.

The DAA has information on the typical fee for private dietitian consultations.

Listen to our podcast on Appetite Loss and Nausea

This information was last reviewed in February 2018
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