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.

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.

Our specialist nurse, Jeni Jones, explains diet and pancreatic cancer.

How does pancreatic cancer affect digestion?

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 or part of the pancreas 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 be managed with pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT). You might have heard of Creon, which is a type of PERT.

Problems with digestion can cause symptoms, including losing weight or having pale, oily poo that floats (steatorrhoea) and other changes to your bowel habits.

Read about pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy

Read our booklet about diet and pancreatic cancer.

To read more about diet and pancreatic cancer, including information on pancreatic enzymes and tips for dealing with the different symptoms, download or order our booklet, Diet and pancreatic cancer.

Download or order our booklet.
An image of the front cover of the booklet, Diet and pancreatic cancer by Pancreatic Cancer UK.

Diabetes and pancreatic cancer

The pancreas also produces hormones, including insulin and glucagon, which control sugar levels in the blood. Pancreatic cancer can reduce the number of hormones the pancreas makes, which can cause diabetes.

Read more information on diabetes and pancreatic cancer.

Questions about digestion problems?

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

You can also speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line. They can explain how to manage diet problems and can support you.

Speak to our nurses
Specialist nurse Rachel

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