The pancreas produces digestive enzymes that break down the food you eat into basic nutrients that the body can use. When you have pancreatic cancer, your body may not be able to make enough of these digestive juices, and then you may not be able to digest foods adequately. This is known as malabsorption and causes cramping, wind, diarrhoea and oily bowel movements.
Constipation, diarrhoea and nausea can be side effects of pancreatic enzymes. Tell your dietitian or doctor if the tablets cause side effects or if symptoms of malabsorption persist.
Your doctor may prescribe tablets containing enzymes to treat these symptoms. The enzyme capsules can help break down food and reduce weight loss. Generally, people take one to two capsules with water with each meal or snack.
It is important to take the enzymes at the beginning of the meal or snack. Enzymes generally do not work well if forgotten and taken after eating. Try to establish a routine or memory prompt to take enzymes.
The number of capsules needed varies depending on how much fat is in the meal. A very low fat meal or snack (such as fruit) may not need a capsule, whereas a larger meal may require a few capsules. It may take time to get the balance of the enzyme tablets right. Write down any digestive symptoms you experience and the foods eaten, and discuss them with a dietitian so you can get things right quicker.
If you find swallowing the tablets difficult, open the capsules and mix their contents with a soft food, such as pureed fruit, that can be swallowed easily without chewing.
Note: Most pancreatic enzymes on the market are derived from animal sources such as pork or beef. If you are allergic to these products then there are digestive enzymes available that are prepared using vegetable sources only - speak to your dietitian or doctor about these alternatives.