Diet and Surgery for pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic Cancer Action
Patient Information Booklets

Diet and Nutrition for Patients

This booklet contains information about how pancreatic cancer can affect your diet and nutrition. Provides information on managing dietary symptoms such as malabsorption, enzyme replacement, poor appetite, weight loss and managing diarrhoea. Contains a section about dietary supplements and information about diabetes and diet.

Recipe Book Front Cover
Patient Information Booklets

Patient Recipe Book

This recipe book provides advice on how best to combat cancer-induced weight loss and other eating related problems whilst undergoing pancreatic cancer treatment. It features over 80 quick, easy and energy dense recipes for nourishing meals and snacks that have been created specifically for people who find it hard to maintain a healthy weight.

Eating before surgery

Surgery for pancreatic cancer is a major operation and you will be assessed by your medical team to make sure you are fit enough for surgery, and it is the right choice for you. 

If you are losing or have lost weight you may be advised to try and build up your weight and strength prior to the operation. If weight loss is due to damage to the pancreas, then you may be prescribed pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy to ensure you are absorbing all of the nutrients from your food. 

Suggestions to help you gain or maintain weight include

  • Eat little and often, aiming for a small meal or snack every 2-3 hours 
  • Have your biggest meal when you are most hungry 
  • Eat more protein rich foods (meat, fish, eggs, cheese, beans, lentils and pulses) 
  • Fortify your meals through swaps such as milk for cream or the addition of milk powder to dairy or mashed potato. Try adding cheese to sauces or grated onto meals. Top fruits or cereals with honey or golden syrup. 
  • Your doctor or dietitian may recommend high calorie prescription supplements which come in many forms; juice, milkshakes and puddings. 

free recipe book

Eating after surgery

After some operations you will be advised not to eat for a few days to let your system heal. When your doctors are happy, you will begin with sips of water before reintroducing a light diet, soft diet and building up to eating and drinking normally again. If you weren’t taking them before, you may need pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy to ensure you are able to absorb the nutrients from your food now that a portion of your pancreas is missing. 

What is a light diet?

During the first days or week after surgery, your medical team and dietitian will help you to start eating a light diet. Nurses will be able to provide useful information about what foods to try. Generally, this is soft, moist and easily digested food. 

When recovering from surgery and eating a light diet there are some foods and food groups to avoid; 

  • Spicy foods 
  • High fat foods 
  • Foods that contain lots of cheese (e.g. pizza, lasagne) 
  • High fibre foods 
  • Food with bits and pips in 
  • Fizzy drinks and alcohol 

Some suggested foods for a light diet include:

Breakfast Porridge, cornflakes or puffed rice cereal, white bread and butter or spread, smooth apple or orange juice
Main meals Soup, white bread and butter or spread, white fish, mince, mashed potatoes, soft pasta, mousse, custard or milky puddings, bananas or fruit compotes
Snacks Jelly, mousse, yoghurt (no pips), chocolate (without nuts or dried fruit), crème caramel, bagel with soft cheese

Always check with your dietitian or medical team if you are unsure of what type of diet you should be on.

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Information Product № PCA0015v1 Published 15/10/2019
Last Updated 18/07/2024 Next Review Due 11/07/2027