Nutrition and pancreatic cancer

Research project aims to improve malnutrition in those with pancreatic cancer

Dr Kate Furness is leading a research project, supported by a $1.68 million Medical Research Future Fund Pancreatic Cancer grant, aimed at improving malnutrition in those with pancreatic cancer.

“Pancreatic cancer is a significant health concern in Australia. It is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths and has a poor five-year survival rate,” explains Dr Furness.

A loss of appetite and unintentional weight loss are some of the common symptoms of pancreatic cancer. There is also an established link between cancer-associated malnutrition and reduced survival.

“Yet, current nutrition interventions providing early, intensive and tailored nutrition support, counselling and education to people with pancreatic cancer are inadequate.”

Dr Furness says a more aggressive approach to enhancing nutrition intake is essential to meet the needs of those with pancreatic cancer.

“Based on findings from our previous research, enteral tube feeding may play a key role in achieving nutritional adequacy.”

“Enteral tube feeding involves delivering nutrition directly into the gastrointestinal tract through a tube, ensuring the person receives essential macro and micronutrients. This approach has been used successfully in the nutrition management of neck cancer and is now considered a standard of care for this condition.”

Dr Furness’ research is investigating if jejunal feeding – a type of enteral feeding that targets the small intestine – delivered in addition to regular nutritional intake can improve nutritional adequacy in those with newly diagnosed and inoperable pancreatic cancer.

“We are also looking at whether this supplementary jejunal feeding combined with intensive dietetic counselling can improve health-related quality of life and nutrition outcomes.”

“We hope that our project will make a meaningful contribution to pancreatic cancer research and address the current inadequacies in nutrition intervention.”