Pancreatic cancer and physical activity

Gentle physical activity can help to maintain or improve your strength and fitness. It may also help you feel better, and cope better with treatment.

It can be difficult to be active when you have pancreatic cancer. If you are eating or drinking less, or doing less physical activity, you may lose some muscle and strength. This can affect how you deal with symptoms and side effects of the cancer and treatment, and how you feel generally. Gentle physical activity can help improve your strength and fitness and help you to deal with symptoms such as fatigue (extreme tiredness) or losing your appetite.

It is important to exercise within your own limits. Find something you enjoy doing. It could be gardening or going for a short walk. Take it easy and only do what you are able to do. You may find that some days are better than others. You might find it’s easier to exercise with a friend or relative – but make sure that you are still in control of how much you do.

Speak to your doctor or nurse before starting any kind of exercise plan. They can advise you on what type of activities are best for you, and any safety issues to be aware of. If you have diabetes, be aware that exercising can affect your blood sugar levels and how you manage your diabetes.

Your doctor or nurse may refer you to a physiotherapist or occupational therapist for more specialist advice. Physiotherapists help people cope with illness and manage symptoms through movement and exercise. Occupational therapists provide equipment and help with everyday activities, such as dressing or going to the shops, if you are struggling with these.

Some cancer support services, such as Maggie’s Centres, run exercise courses for people with cancer, for example, yoga, tai chi or walking groups. Ask your GP about any services available in your area.

What sort of exercise could help?

For most people, doing gentle exercise three times a day would be suitable. This could include:

  • going for a walk down the street or garden
  • light housework or gardening
  • sitting in a chair or lying on a bed or the floor, raising your leg, and holding it for a few seconds, before lowering it and repeating a few times
  • lifting some small weights, tins of food or bottles of water, while sitting in a chair
  • walking up and down a few steps.
  • If you usually do a lot of exercise, you may wish to do more than this. Don’t do any vigorous exercise without talking to your doctor or physiotherapist first.

Even if you are in hospital, doing some activity can help maintain your fitness. This can help you cope better once you leave hospital. For example, you could try walking along the corridor once a day.

Macmillan Cancer Support has a lot of information about different ways of keeping active that you may find helpful, such as their Move More tool.

''The physiotherapist used to visit mum and do a few exercises with her and left a print out of what she could do in her own time at her own pace.’’

A clinical trial looking at exercise and pancreatic cancer

The PRECISE study is taking place in Belfast. It will plan exercise programmes for people having chemotherapy after their surgery. The study will find out if doing exercise during treatment is practical for people with pancreatic cancer, and if it can help them feel better and recover well from surgery and chemotherapy.

Read about PRECISE on our Clinical Trial Finder

Updated January 2020

Review date January 2023