Nutrition after Pancreatic Cancer Surgery
More and more cancer patients are recognizing they are fighting a battle which much be fought on multiple fronts. For pancreatic cancer, in particular, it is important to recognize the importance diet and nutrition play in the fight against cancer. Pancreatic cancer patients often struggle with digestive problems due to their cancer and surgical procedures. According to oncology nutritionist Colleen Gill, MS RD CSO ( website HERE), there are things you can do to improve your nutritional status wherever you may be in your cancer battle.
The Role of the Pancreas in Nutrition
The pancreas is a vital part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. One of its functions is to help break food down so it can be absorbed into the blood stream. Once the food is broken down, nutrients are used by the body to provide energy and carry out essential functions. Nutrient absorption is often limited if there is cancer in the pancreas. Surgical removal of pancreas cancer also frequently disturbs the release of enzymes. When this happens, the pancreatic cancer patient is unable to properly absorb the nutrients the body needs to function optimally.
Here are Five Tips for Helping Pancreatic Cancer Patients after Surgery
1) Ask Your Doctor about Pancreatic Enzymes
Many pancreatic cancer patients develop pancreatic enzyme insufficiency following surgery for their cancer. Those who have had the Whipple surgery seem to be particularly hard hit by pancreatic insufficiency. When this happens, food is often not completely broken down in the digestive tract. These patients face nutrient malabsorption.
Symptoms of malabsorption may include:
-gas and bloating due to bacteria in the colon fermenting excess food
– foul-smelling stools from unabsorbed fat
-stools that float on the surface of the water
– frequent, loose stools
– weight loss due to the malabsorption of nutrients
Some patients may only need to take enzymes for a period of time following surgery, while others will need enzymes for the rest of their lives.
2) Consistency & Timing are Key
Ms. Gill explains the effective use of pancreatic enzymes depends primarily upon consistency and timing. If patients miss even one dose, their symptoms can return. Take enzymes before each meal and snack. If you are eating a large meal, it can also help to take enzymes mid-meal.
It may take a while to determine the correct dosage of enzymes. Work with your doctor and dietitian to determine the correct dosage for you. Remember that meals high in fact may require extra enzymes.
3) Eat Small, Frequent Meals
Patients often have difficulty eating larger meals after surgery for pancreatic cancer. Eating smaller meals several times per day can help patients who experience feelings of fullness with larger meals. Eating smaller meals also makes digestion easier on the body.
4) Monitor Your Weight
It is common for patients to lose some weight following surgery, but it is problematic if a patient loses too much weight. Losing muscle can impede healing and can even negatively affect immune function. Patients may find drinking their calories in a smoothie or similar drink may be helpful.
5) Avoid high-fat, greasy foods
High-fat, greasy foods may exacerbate digestive problems. Avoid them completely immediately following surgery. Some patients will need to avoid them permanently. Replace these items with foods that contain healthy fats.
Remember, getting adequate caloric and nutrient intake follow surgery for pancreatic cancer is essential. Consult with your doctor and a nutritionist prior to surgery, if possible. A good nutritionist is an important part of your cancer team.