What to Eat When You Have Pancreatic Cancer

nutrition for pancreatic cancer

The pancreas is an essential organ secretes the hormone insulin in response to your body’s changing blood sugar levels.  Located behind the stomach, and in close relation to the gallbladder, small intestine, and duodenum, this tiny organ also aids in the digestion of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats you ingest.

In short, the pancreas is an important organ and cannot be compromised for long without creating some serious health complications.

Unfortunately, anyone can develop pancreatic cancer at some point in their life and compromise the health of their pancreas.  And, since there are no proven causes for pancreatic cancer and you will rarely experience any symptoms before a diagnosis by your pancreas doctor, caring for yourself both during and after pancreatic cancer treatment is crucial for recovering and maintaining a healthy life going forward.

Today we are going to look at some of the best foods you can eat both during and after your pancreatic cancer treatment.  But first, we will quickly review what your pancreas doctor may recommend in terms of treatment options after a pancreatic cancer diagnosis.


Treatment Options for Pancreatic Cancer

In the past, we have discussed some of the various treatment options available to those who have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  Let’s take a quick look at remember what those options are:

  • Ablation of the tumor(s). For pancreatic cancer tumors that have spread to nearby organs and tissue, ablative techniques are used to help destroy them. This is a popular pancreatic cancer treatment option and is performed using different temperatures to chip away at the tumors.
  • Embolization.  When a tumor is too large or widespread to target using ablation, sometimes a pancreas surgeon will intravenously target tumors directly with chemicals in hopes of shrinking or killing the tumor.
  • Radiation.  With radiation, tumors are targeted with high-powered X-rays in hopes of killing the cancer cells and destroying the tumor.
  • Chemotherapy. This is the process of administering cancer-killing medication in hopes of killing all cancer cells throughout the body.


Pancreatic Cancer Surgical Treatment Options

In addition to the above-mentioned treatment options your pancreas surgeon will likely make available to you, there is always the option of surgery as well.

what to eat when you have pancreatic cancer


Whipple Procedure

As the most popular method for treating pancreatic cancer, the Whipple procedure is also the most successful treatment option available today for completely removing pancreatic tumors.  In short, the Whipple procedure involves removing the top (or head) portion of the pancreas, duodenum, and common bile duct and reattaching them to the small intestine so normal digestion can continue.


Total Pancreatectomy

If the cancer in your pancreas has extended beyond what the Whipple procedure can remove, your pancreatic doctor may recommend removing the entire pancreas altogether.  Additionally, surrounding areas infected with cancer cells such as parts of the duodenum, stomach, gallbladder, and lymph nodes may be removed as well.


Distal Pancreatectomy

If the cancer is in the tail of your pancreas rather than the head portion, you may undergo a distal pancreatectomy instead in order to remove the portion of the pancreas affected by cancerous cells.  In addition to removing the tail portion of your pancreas, your pancreas surgeon will likely remove your spleen as well.


What to Eat During and After Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer

While receiving treatment for pancreatic cancer, it is likely your body will suffer nutritionally as it attempts to fight the cancerous cells in your body or recover from pancreas surgery.

nutrition for pancreatic cancer

For those receiving treatment for pancreatic cancer, or those recovering from the Whipple procedure or some other surgical treatment, here is a pancreatic cancer nutrition guide to follow in order to maintain a strong body while fighting your illness.

Just make sure to discuss any special dietary needs with your pancreas surgeon to make sure you are maintaining optimal health post treatment and receiving proper nutrition for pancreatic cancer.



Although not a “food” per say, staying hydrated during treatment of your pancreatic cancer is one of the most important things you can do.  Not only does this prevent dehydration and excess strain on your body’s internal organs, it helps you to maintain a stronger immune system.  You should also try to avoid caffeinated drinks as caffeine can cause dehydration and make the treatment of your cancer more difficult.


Soft Foods

Your pancreas is a key player in the digestion of foods you consume.  By eating soft foods that are easy to chew thoroughly, you will avoid excess strain on your pancreas as it fights the cancer cells via the treatment plan your pancreas doctor has prescribed you.


Protein-Rich Foods

Aiding in cell and tissue repair, eating enough protein is crucial during and after your pancreatic cancer treatment.  In addition, protein helps keep your immune system strong. This way as your body aims to fight the cancer, or recovers from pancreas surgery, you do not fall ill with other common illnesses.

Here are some great examples of protein choices you should include in your diet:

  • Lean cuts such as turkey, chicken, or fish
  • Low fat dairy options like milk or yogurt
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Soy foods
  • Beans
  • Eggs


Whole Grains

In addition to a diet rich with lean protein sources, you should add good carbohydrates full of fiber for keeping energy levels high.  Some of the best options are:

  • Whole grain pastas
  • Whole wheat breads
  • Brown rice
  • Oatmeal


Fruits and Vegetables

According to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, you should aim to consume 2.5 cups of fruits and vegetables a day following pancreatic cancer treatment.  Though you may not be able to tolerate fruits and vegetables initially following pancreatic surgery, it’s important for your long-term health to introduce these foods into your diet gradually after your pancreatic cancer treatment.


Healthy Fats

Though fats are necessary to a balanced diet, unhealthy fats like those found in fried, greasy, and fatty foods should be avoided.  These are hard to digest and can strain a weakened pancreas, especially post Whipple procedure.  Instead, try incorporating healthy fats like olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, nuts, avocados, nuts, and seeds into your daily diet.


Foods that Lessen the Side Effect of Diarrhea

Unfortunately, many people experience increased diarrhea as a side effect of many pancreatic cancer treatments.  This is because many medications administered both during and after cancer treatment can cause this common side effect.  Further, if part or all of your pancreas and other organs have been removed, your body must now adjust as it continues to digest foods you consume.  During this adjustment period diarrhea is often a common complaint.

Here are some of the best foods to eat for lessening the side effect of diarrhea during pancreatic cancer treatment:

  • Lower fat foods
  • Soluble fiber such as fiber found in oats, applesauce, and bananas
  • Plant based milk alternatives if lactose intolerance develops (g. soy or rice milks, Lactaid®, or lactose intolerance capsules)


Pancreatic Enzymes

Your diet after Whipple Surgery or a total pancreatectomy can become more complex than those who have had a distal pancreatectomy for their pancreatic cancer.  This is because sometimes removing the head of the pancreas, or the entire pancreas, causes a malabsorption of essential nutrients the body needs to function correctly.  In addition, those who received radiation in addition to a Whipple Surgery may experience a difficult time absorbing fats and other nutrients.

As a result, patients experiencing malabsorption may be advised to take daily pancreatic enzymes in addition to the foods they eat.  In an effort to reduce diarrhea, prevent weight loss, and maintain adequate nutrition, these enzymes are typically take for the rest of the patient’s life.

In the end, treating pancreatic cancer is a difficult and often long-term effort that both you and your pancreas surgeon must endure.  However, using nutrition to help battle the cancer, restore your body’s health, and reduce the chances of the cancer returning, is an easy and relatively painless option.

If you are in the Maryland area and have recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, contact Dr. Fraiman at the Liver and Pancreas Center in Towson.  As an experienced pancreatic surgeon with over 20 years’ experience, Dr. Fraiman has what it takes to diagnose and treat those with pancreatic cancer.

With an individualized approach to cancer treatment, an expert resume when it comes to the Whipple procedure, and a firm belief that diet plays a large role in achieving health both during and after a cancer diagnoses, Dr. Fraiman will help you get healthy again and know what to eat when you have pancreatic cancer.