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Diet and surgery to remove pancreatic cancer

If you have surgery to remove pancreatic cancer (such as the Whipple’s operation), you will have all or part of your pancreas removed. This will affect how well the pancreas makes pancreatic enzymes that digest your food, and hormones which control the level of sugar in your blood.  

  • It is likely that you will need pancreatic enzymes replacement therapy to help you digest food. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommend that if you are able to have surgery your doctor should assess your symptoms to see if you need pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy before or after surgery.
  • You may also develop diabetes and need medicines to manage this.

You may see a dietitian before and after your surgery. They can give advice on managing any symptoms from the surgery, eating well and putting on weight, and taking pancreatic enzymes.   

Before surgery for pancreatic cancer

Try to eat as well as possible in the weeks before your operation, as this will help you recover from surgery. Being active can also help you prepare for surgery. If you have lost weight, you may need to put weight back on before surgery. Your medical team may suggest a build-up diet.

Speak to your doctor or dietitian about pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy if you are not already taking these capsules.

After surgery for pancreatic cancer

There are no foods which you should totally avoid after your surgery. To begin with, you will need more calories and protein in your diet to help you recover. You should also avoid alcohol and fizzy drinks for a few weeks.

Some people find that they can’t manage big portions after surgery, or feel full more quickly. Eating small amounts often can help with this. Try having three small meals and three snacks a day.

You may also find that some foods don’t taste the same. Taste can take some weeks to return to normal after surgery. We have tips on dealing with a loss of appetite and taste changes.

Speak to your doctor if you have any problems with your mouth after surgery. They can check for a mouth infection, such as oral thrush. Oral thrush causes white spots on your tongue, reduces your appetite and causes a sore mouth. It is common after surgery, but is normally easy to treat.

If you have any questions about managing diet problems before or after surgery, speak to your doctor, nurse or dietitian. If you are having chemotherapy after your surgery, it is important to speak to them about any eating problems to make sure these don’t delay the chemotherapy.

Gentle physical activity can help with your recovery. Speak to the physiotherapists at the hospital for more advice on this.  

If you haven’t seen a dietitian, ask your doctor or nurse to refer you to one – it is important that you get specialist advice about your diet. You can also speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line.

"My weight is stable. I have not put back all the weight I lost post-surgery but think I look well and I eat well and healthily."

"I have continued with my steady progress since discharge after surgery and have increased my walking distance daily. My appetite has increased with my increased stamina."

Find more information on diet and pancreatic cancer

Read more about preparing for surgery.

Read more about what happens after surgery for pancreatic cancer.

Read about diabetes and pancreatic cancer

Find out more about physical activity and pancreatic cancer.

Find out about how problems with digestion can be managed with pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT)

Read about managing your diet if you can’t have surgery to remove the cancer

Read our diet tips for pancreatic cancer

Updated January 2020

Review date January 2023

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