Common vitamin and mineral deficiencies in people with cancer include vitamins A, C and E, beta-carotene, selenium, folate, magnesium, iron and zinc. These deficiencies may be caused by reduced food intake, increased nutrient needs and/or increased nutrient losses.
We asked Maria Petzel, senior clinical dietitian for the Pancreas Surgery Program at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and a member of the Scientific and Medical Advisory Board for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, what pancreatic cancer patients should know about vitamins.
Here are seven things to know:
- In general, vitamin and mineral supplements are not recommended for pancreatic cancer patients unless they are known to have a deficiency.
- If you’re undergoing chemotherapy and/or radiation, and are known to have a deficiency, it’s important to talk about vitamin and mineral supplements with your treating physician, because they could affect treatment.
- Fat-soluble vitamins are A, D, E and K. For this reason, fat malabsorption – the inability to absorb nutrients – may contribute to deficiencies in these vitamins, as well as calcium, iron and zinc.
- Pancreatic enzymes may help improve fat malabsorption and nutrient digestion; speak with your healthcare team about this option.
- Patients who have had the Whipple surgery can be deficient in B-12 and iron. Patients who are experiencing diarrhea can be deficient in iron and zinc.
- Bone health is very important for patients who have had the Whipple surgery, so they need to get adequate vitamin D and calcium. Vitamin D is lacking in a typical diet these days, plus, our sun exposure is limited, so discuss vitamin D supplements with your physician. Unlike vitamin D, calcium can’t be measured through a blood test, so be vigilant about getting enough calcium in your diet and then monitor through bone density screenings.
- Healthy foods and/or nutritional supplement drinks can help replace vitamins and minerals. Here’s a recipe with bok choy and salmon, both good sources of calcium.
Pancreatic cancer patients and caregivers can access comprehensive disease information, including diet and nutrition tips, recipes and a booklet on the subject – all reviewed and approved by renowned leaders in the field, including Petzel – by contacting the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s one-on-one Patient Central support service by phone or email.
Come back to our blog each week for more Friday Fix: Your Weekly Nutrition Supplement.