Diet and pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer can cause problems with diet, digestion and nutrition. We explain how to manage these problems and the symptoms they cause, including taking pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT) such as Creon.

How does pancreatic cancer affect digestion?

When you eat, your body breaks down your food – this is part of digestion.

The pancreas plays an important role in digesting food, as it produces enzymes that help to break down food. Nutrients from the food can then be absorbed into the blood and used by the body. Different pancreatic enzymes help to break down foods containing fat, protein and carbohydrate.

Pancreatic cancer can affect how well your body can digest food.

Pancreatic cancer can reduce the number of enzymes that your pancreas makes. It can also block the enzymes from getting to the bowel, where they are needed for digestion. For example, the cancer can block the pancreatic duct, which carries the enzymes from the pancreas to the small intestine.

Having surgery to remove all the cancer may also affect the number of enzymes that the pancreas makes.

This means that food is not properly digested, and the nutrients in the food aren’t absorbed. This is called malabsorption. It can cause symptoms, including losing weight, losing your appetite, tummy discomfort, bloating, wind, diarrhoea and other changes to your bowel habits.

These symptoms can be managed with pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT)

If you have any problems with your diet or digestion, speak to your doctor, nurse or dietitian.

What is pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy?

Problems with digestion can be managed with pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT). You might have heard of Creon®, Pancrease®, Nutrizym® or Pancrex®, which are all types of PERT.

PERT replaces the enzymes your pancreas would normally make. You take capsules with food which help you digest your food.

Most people with pancreatic cancer will need to take PERT.

Read more about pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT)
Our specialist nurse, Jeni Jones, explains diet and pancreatic cancer.

Read our information about managing problems with digestion

We have lots of information to help you manage problems with diet

You can order printed copies of this information.

Order our information

How can we support you?

It can be confusing trying to manage your diet and PERT, but we’re here to help.

Our specialist nurses on our free Support Line can explain how to manage diet problems and can support you.

Our nurses also run online support sessions to help you deal with digestion problems.

Find out more about how we can support you
Specialist nurse Rachel

Everyone who needs PERT should get it

Right now, unfortunately many people with pancreatic cancer don’t get PERT. That’s unacceptable. That’s why we’ve launched our Transform lives: Prescribe campaign. We’re calling on the NHS to make sure that everyone who needs PERT gets it.

If you have problems digesting your food but haven’t been given PERT, ask your doctor, nurse or dietitian about it.

Find out more about the campaign

Updated January 2020

Review date January 2023

References and acknowledgements


References

Email us at publications@pancreaticcancer.org.uk for references to the sources of information used to write this information.

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the following people who reviewed our information on Diet and pancreatic cancer.

  • Anna Burton Senior Specialist Pancreatic Dietitian, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Sarah D’Agar Specialist Oncologist Dietitian, Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Jo Harvey Macmillan Advanced Clinical Practitioner Upper HI/HPB, Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Penny Kaye Macmillan Specialist Dietitian, East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust
  • Ann McSorley Macmillan Dietitian Specialist Palliative Care Team, Omagh Hospital
  • Margaret Palmer Diabetes Specialist Nurse, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Mary Phillips Advanced Specialist Dietitian (HPB Surgery), Royal Surrey County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • Kerry Thompson Specialist Dietitian. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde
  • Maria Tynan Macmillan Specialist Dietitian – Palliative Care, Southern Health and Social Care Trust, Northern Ireland
  • Naomi Westran, Macmillan Oncology Dietitian, Royal Surrey County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • Pancreatic Cancer UK Information Volunteers
  • Pancreatic Cancer UK specialist nurses