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Diet and inoperable pancreatic cancer

If you have inoperable pancreatic cancer, keeping your weight stable and managing your diet may improve how you feel and help you cope better with the cancer and treatment. There are no foods that you should stop eating because of the cancer.

How should I manage my diet if I have inoperable pancreatic cancer?

If you are eating well and haven’t lost any weight, you can carry on with your normal diet.

But if you have lost weight, are struggling to eat or have a poor appetite, speak to your dietitian. They can help you manage any symptoms. For example, they can give you advice about what to eat to make sure you get all the nutrients you need. These tips might help with weight loss.

The dietitian can also help you with pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy, which may help to improve your symptoms and quality of daily life. The dietitian can also help with diabetes if you have been diagnosed with this. If you haven’t seen a specialist pancreatic or oncology dietitian, ask to be referred to one.

Sometimes a member of your medical team may recommend nutritional supplements. They may also suggest medicine to stimulate your appetite, such as steroids (for example, dexamethasone) or hormonal therapy (for example, megestrol acetate). This will depend on your own situation.

It’s common for people with pancreatic cancer to lose muscle. Gentle physical activity and eating well can help to reduce muscle loss. Preventing muscle loss can help you have more energy, feel better, and cope with treatment.

Diet and pancreatic cancer is complicated, and it’s important that you get the right advice. Speak to your dietitian about any questions or concerns you have. You can also ask our specialist nurses on our free Support Line.

Diet and a duodenal stent

Sometimes the cancer can block the duodenum (first part of the small intestines). If this happens, you may need to have a stent (hollow tube) inserted. This unblocks the duodenum and allows food to pass through. This should also relieve symptoms caused by the blockage, such as feeling full, and feeling and being sick.

You will need to be careful what food you eat, to make sure the stent doesn't getting blocked. The following tips may help.

  • Eat smaller meals but more often.
  • Take your time eating, and make sure you chew your food well.
  • Eat a variety of foods to make sure you get enough nutrients.  
  • Sit up when eating and avoid lying down after meals.  This will help to digest your food.
  • Avoid drinking too much fluid before or with your meals as this can fill you up.

You will need to eat soft and moist foods, such as:

  • porridge or cereal soaked in milk
  • soup (add cream, milk or cheese for extra nutrients and calories)
  • minced meat and poached fish
  • eggs, including boiled, poached or scrambled eggs and omelette
  • fish pie, shepherd’s pie or macaroni cheese
  • mashed potato (add butter, cream or cheese)
  • vegetables cooked until tender with no skin or pips
  • rice pudding, stewed fruit, yoghurt, mousse, custard or ice cream.

Try to avoid foods that might block the stent. These include:

  • raw vegetables or vegetables that are harder to digest, such as salads, celery and sweetcorn
  • nuts and dried fruit
  • fruit with a pith, such as grapefruit or oranges
  • tough or gristly meat
  • bread, as it expands in your stomach when it mixes with liquid.
  • wholegrain food such as wholegrain pasta or rice as they are more difficult to digest.

Speak to your doctor, nurse or dietitian for more advice about what to eat after you have had a duodenal stent put in.

More diet and pancreatic cancer information

Updated November 2017

To be reviewed November 2019

Information Standard