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. This is normal.

As your body slows down, it needs less food. The cancer can also reduce your appetite, and symptoms such as sickness, pain or fatigue may put you off eating.

Losing a lot of weight can be upsetting for both you and your family. Try not to worry about how much you are eating or about putting weight back on. There are things that can help manage appetite and weight loss.

What can help?

  • Speak to your doctor, nurse or dietitian about weight loss and how they can help.
  • It’s fine to eat and drink what you feel like, even if that’s only small amounts.
  • If you feel sick or very full, have a break and try to eat some more an hour or so later.
  • Try having small meals or snacks. You may find soft food such as soup, yoghurt or ice cream easier to eat.
  • You should keep taking pancreatic enzymes while you are eating, but you can reduce the amount you take if you are eating less.
  • It is important that you speak to your doctor or nurse for help with any problems that are stopping you eating, such as pain or sickness.
  • Gentle physical activity can help to increase your appetite and help you maintain your strength and fitness.

Your doctor or nurse can refer you to a dietitian for help with eating. They may suggest changes to your diet or nutritional supplements, which are drinks or powders. These help to increase the amount of energy (calories) and protein in your diet. This can help you to feel better, and have more energy.

If you have symptoms that make eating or drinking difficult, you may have treatment to give you nutrients and fluids called artificial nutrition and hydration. Some people have a tube put in through their nose, or some people have this treatment through a drip into a vein.

Artificial nutrition and hydration can help some people feel better, but it isn’t suitable for everyone, and can be difficult to manage. Your doctor, nurse or dietitian can talk to you about artificial nutrition, and whether it might help you.

Information for families – helping with eating

It can be difficult if your family member 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. Try to keep having meals together as a family, as the social part of eating together can help.

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 April 2021

Review date April 2024