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Diet and operable pancreatic cancer

If it is possible to remove your cancer with surgery, there are different types of operation available, such as the Whipple’s operation. They all involve removing all or part of the pancreas.

How will my diet be affected by surgery?

Before surgery

The fitter you are before surgery, the better. This will help your wounds to heal, reduce the risk of infection, and help your recovery from the operation. It’s important that you eat as well as possible in the weeks before your operation. This will aim to increase the energy and protein you have in your diet.

Physical activity, giving up smoking and reducing the amount of alcohol you drink will also help to improve your fitness for surgery.

After surgery

You may see a dietitian before and after your surgery. They can provide advice on managing any symptoms from the surgery, putting on weight, and using pancreatic enzyme supplements. They can also give you tips on how to eat enough and get the nutrients you need.

There are no foods which you should totally avoid after your surgery. To begin with, you will need more energy and protein in your diet to help you heal and recover. You should avoid alcohol for several weeks after surgery, as your pancreas is sensitive to alcohol. Avoid fizzy drinks until you are able to eat normally, as these can cause tummy pain.

Physical activity can also help with your recovery. Physiotherapists at the hospital can provide advice about this.

Diet symptoms after surgery

Having all or part of the pancreas removed will affect how well the pancreas produces enzymes and hormones. You may need to take pancreatic enzyme supplements to help you digest food. You may also develop diabetes and need medication to manage this. Speak to your doctor, nurse or dietitian about this.

You may have lost weight before or after surgery. It may take a few months for you to start to put weight back on. Try not to lose more weight, as this will affect how well you recover from the operation. Even if you are overweight you should try to keep your weight stable.

You may find that your weight becomes stable at a certain point and you don’t put any more on. If you are having problems putting on weight, speak to your doctor, nurse or dietitian. The tips for a build-up diet may help with putting weight back on.

Some people find that they have a small appetite and can’t manage big portions following surgery. This may last for several months or be long-term.

Some types of surgery involve removing part of your stomach. This may mean that you feel full more quickly than before. Eating small amounts often may help you get the nutrients you need. Try having three small meals and three snacks a day.

You may find that some foods don’t taste the same after surgery. Taste can take some weeks to return to normal. Read our tips on dealing with taste changes.

If you notice your tongue has a creamy white coating, or your mouth is sore, speak to your doctor. This could be an infection such as oral thrush. This is common after any large operation. It can reduce your appetite and cause taste changes.

If you are having chemotherapy after your surgery, speak to your doctor, nurse or dietitian about any eating problems, to make sure these don’t delay the chemotherapy.

If you have any concerns or questions about managing diet problems after surgery, speak to your doctor, nurse or dietitian. You can also call our specialist nurses on our Support line.

More diet and pancreatic cancer information

Updated November 2017

To be reviewed November 2019

Information Standard