Weight loss and reduced appetite towards the end of life

Many people with pancreatic cancer lose their appetite and lose weight. People in the last few weeks of life will gradually feel less like eating, and will eat less.

It is normal for people to to eat less as they approach the end of their life. The cancer can reduce your appetite, and symptoms, such as sickness, pain or fatigue, may put you off eating. And as your body slows down, it needs less food.

Losing a lot of weight can be upsetting for both you and your family. But try not to worry about how much you are eating or about putting weight back on, as you probably won’t be able to put on weight. But there are things that can help manage appetite and weight loss.

What can help with appetite and weight loss?

  • It’s fine to eat and drink what you feel like, even if that’s only small amounts.
  • Try having small meals or snacks of things that you fancy. You may find soft food such as soup, yoghurt or ice cream easier to eat.
  • You should continue to take pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT) while you are eating, but you can reduce the amount you take if you are eating less.
  • It is important to treat any problems that are stopping you eating, such as pain, sickness or tiredness.
  • Gentle physical activity can help to increase your appetite and help you maintain or improve your strength and fitness.

Your doctor or nurse can refer you to a dietitian for help with eating. They may suggest nutritional supplements to increase the amount of energy (calories) and protein in your diet.

Information for family members – helping with eating

It can be difficult if your loved one doesn’t feel like eating and is losing weight. But remember that this is normal. Don’t try to make them eat if they don’t want to. Support them by asking what they fancy and preparing food for them. And try not to be upset if they don’t eat much of it.

Read our information for families at the end of life

Questions about weight loss?

If you have any questions about appetite loss or weight loss, speak to your doctor, nurse or dietitian.

You can also speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line.

Speak to our nurses
Pancreatic Cancer Nurse Jeni Jones

Published March 2018

Review date March 2020