Pancreatic Cancer

Healthy Lifestyle

A healthy lifestyle is important to everyone but especially to those who’ve been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Making good decisions about what you eat and drink – as well as what to avoid – can greatly improve your body’s ability to fight and recover from an illness. Unfortunately, this disease in particular can often make eating a difficult and unenjoyable task, so let your doctors know if you encounter any side effects that hinder you from healthy eating.

Some patients say they have a hard time swallowing or tasting food, while others experience nausea and diarrhea, and all of these may contribute to weight loss and, in some cases, the cancellation of treatment. Don’t be afraid to ask for help so this doesn’t happen to you; do your research and find out how to get the nutrients your body needs daily. Not only is proper nutrition beneficial during treatment, it may also help your body after treatment is complete, including a faster recovery from surgeries and invasive treatments.

Many doctors highly recommend that pancreatic cancer patients meet with a dietitian to get specific advice on maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine during and after treatment.

In general and whenever possible, try to eat a low-fat diet full of fruits and vegetables. Consume lean proteins found in eggs, fish, chicken, Greek yogurt and peanut butter, and be sure to get enough fiber, found in whole grains such as brown rice, oatmeal and bread.

Studies show that eating smaller amounts of food more often is actually easier for pancreatic cancer patients to handle. So, instead of sitting down to three large meals every day, get the vitamins and minerals your body needs by snacking more often. This can also help you avoid digestion problems.

Dangers of malnutrition

Malnutrition occurs when a deficiency, excess or imbalance of energy, protein and other nutrients negatively affects body function. As many as 85 percent of cancer patients experience weight loss or malnutrition at some point during their treatment, in large part for these three reasons:

  1. Side effects such as nausea, vomiting and constipation diminish appetite.
  2. The body can’t process nutrients as well as normal.
  3. It requires a tremendous amount of energy for your body to fight and recover from many cancers.

When your food intake is low, your body uses whatever energy it has stored in your fat and muscle to keep up with the demand. This can lead to decreased muscle and immune function. And once severe weight loss begins, it can be difficult to reverse.

Malnutrition can lead to a decreased quality of life and an increased risk for complications. It can also disrupt treatment, which can jeopardize the treatment’s success and your chances for recovery. Your health care team may suggest that you increase your caloric and protein intake using food or liquid nutritional supplements as you continue treatment. Some patients may require nutrition therapy (tube feedings) or intravenous nutrition to stop the dramatic effects. While not usually permanent, these techniques may be temporarily necessary to combat malnutrition.

No matter where you are in your cancer journey, remember that proper nutrition is one of the most vital components of your health care. Talk to your dietitian and/or doctor regularly and inform them of any weight gain or loss during your treatment so they can better track your progress and your ongoing nutritional needs, and make changes accordingly.


Water works wonders

Not drinking enough water is a common problem for many people. Water makes up about 60 percent of your body weight, and your body needs water to function. While daily fluid needs vary from person to person based on health, activity level and geographic location, the general recommendation is about 10 cups of water per day for men and about 8 cups for women. Some water does come from the foods you eat such as fruits, vegetables, soup, ice cream, etc., and from other liquids like coffee and tea, but you still need to drink plain water to ensure that your body’s cells get the fluid they need.

If your side effects include diarrhea or vomiting, you’ll need to consume even more fluids, especially water, to avoid dehydration. If diarrhea is severe, you may not be able to absorb plain water, so a specialized oral rehydration solution may be recommended. Talk to your doctor or dietitian for more information.

Discontinue bad habits

It’s no secret that smoking and cancer go hand in hand. Any time is a good time to give up the habit. Do your research and choose a method you think will help you overcome this obstacle. If you need help, talk to your doctor or find a professional resource, such as the American Cancer Society (800-227-2345).

Drinking alcohol can also interfere with treatment and aggravate side effects. While some doctors recommend not having more than three alcohol drinks per week, almost everyone agrees that water should be your beverage of choice to keep you hydrated and fight off nausea and fatigue.

Lack of sleep is another common problem that can have a big effect on your physical and mental health. Everyone needs time to shut down and recharge, especially those exhausted from cancer treatment. If you’re tired but unable to sleep, try wearing yourself out through exercise or talk to your doctor about supplements or medications that may help.

Reduce stress by exercising

In addition to healthy eating, exercise can also improve your overall fitness and may lead to a better quality of life. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that cancer patients and survivors take part in regular physical activity as soon as possible after their diagnosis. ACS suggests patients get at least 150 minutes of exercise per week, along with two days of strength training.

Finding a class you enjoy or a buddy who can work out with you can help lift your spirits and force you to socialize. Whether you prefer burning off steam alone or in a group, find a local gym where you feel comfortable, and start moving! (Just be sure to talk to your doctor before beginning.)

Your exercise program should include activities to help maintain your muscle strength. These will help prevent loss of muscle mass that may occur from inactivity. Increasing your muscle mass will also raise your metabolism, helping you burn more fat. Exercises that focus on stretching and flexibility will help your ease of movement and range of motion, which may also help you avoid injuries.

In addition to improving your physical health, exercise has also been proven to reduce anxiety, depression and fatigue—not to mention stress. Studies show that exercising is a way to lift your spirits and offers a natural source of relief for many of the emotional side effects you may experience.


Healthy recipes from the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network

The “Cooking. Comfort. Care. Nourishment for the Pancreatic Cancer Fight” program was created by Celgene Corporation in collaboration with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, Meals to Heal and Chef Michael Ferraro. The recipes are developed by registered dietitians who are board-certified specialists in oncology nutrition and affiliated with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Here are a couple recipes to get you started:

Peaches and cream smoothie

Making a simple shake or smoothie can be a helpful way for people living with pancreatic cancer to get the nutrients they need. This smoothie combines the potassium and fiber from peaches and bananas with soluble fiber from rolled oats, which can help alleviate loose bowel movements and promote regularity while you’re undergoing cancer treatment. Protein powder can be added for additional nutritional value, and dairy components can easily be replaced with non-dairy versions.


  • ½ cup rolled oats
  • ¼ cup plain yogurt (or soy/coconut/almond yogurt)
  • ¾ cup milk (or soy/almond/rice milk) + ¼ cup more for morning
  • 1 small ripe peach (or ½ cup frozen peaches, thawed and softened)
  • ½ medium banana
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1-2 Tbsp. protein powder (whey or soy) (optional)


  1. Combine ingredients in a blender and enjoy.
  2. If making ahead of time, store in a container in your refrigerator overnight. In the morning, add last ¼ cup milk (or more if you need it) to blend smoothly.
Yield: 1-2 servings

Turkey sweet potato hash

Since fatigue is sometimes experienced by people living with pancreatic cancer, this easy-to-prepare dish can boost energy with vitamin-rich ingredients that are full of flavor and nutrients.


  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
  • ½ cup reduced-fat sour cream (or yogurt)
  • 1 medium apple, cored and cut into ½-inch pieces (Honeycrisp or Braeburn are preferred, although any apple will work)
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium shallot, chopped
  • 3 cups diced, cooked, skinless turkey breast (or chicken)
  • 1 tsp. dried rosemary (1 Tbsp. fresh, chopped)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Cook sweet potatoes in a steamer basket and cook for approximately 10 minutes. Add the apple and cook three minutes longer or until tender but not overly mushy. Drain and set aside.
  2. Transfer 1 cup of the mixture to a large bowl and mash. Stir in sour cream and lemon juice, along with remaining potato/apple mixture and gently stir to mix.
  3. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add shallot until softened (one to two minutes); then add turkey (or chicken), rosemary, salt and pepper.
  4. Stir mixture until heated through (about two minutes), and then add the sweet potato/apple mixture to the pan.
  5. Press on the hash with a wide metal spoon or spatula until the bottom is lightly browned (about three minutes).
  6. Use a spatula to divide into multiple sections; flip and cook until browned on each side (about two to three minutes).
  7. Serve promptly.

Find more here or search "Cooking.Comfort.Care" on YouTube or Pinterest.

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