Eating problems and gallbladder cancer

Many people who have gallbladder cancer lose their appetite and some may lose weight. If you have jaundice Open a glossary item  it can be difficult for your body to take in fat from your diet. You might need to take supplements to boost your calorie intake, and you may need to avoid fatty food until you have had treatment to relieve the jaundice.

Your diet may have to change after you have surgery for gallbladder cancer. This can also have an effect on your bowels. Your dietitian Open a glossary item can also give you advice and support. 

Diet problems after surgery

You may have problems with your diet if you have had surgery to try to cure gallbladder cancer. Any problems you might have after surgery will depend on the type of surgery you had. Problems include:

  • loose or watery poo (diarrhoea)
  • nausea
  • difficulty digesting food 
  • diabetes Open a glossary item  if doctors remove a large part of your pancreas

Tell your doctor or specialist nurse about any digestive problems you have. They can give you treatment to control them. Sometimes, it takes time to get things right.

Managing diarrhoea

After having your gallbladder removed diarrhoea can be a problem.

This is because bile is no longer stored in the gallbladder and flows directly from the liver into your small bowel. Also, after your gallbladder has been taken out, your stools tend to stay in your bowel for less time. So you have to go to the toilet more often.

Diarrhoea will improve with time, but unfortunately, it can last for many years. This can make everyday life more difficult. Being continuously worried about having an accident with your bowels when you are out, can be difficult. 

Some things may help. You could:

  • ask your doctor to recommend anti diarrhoea medicines to slow down your bowel
  • ask your doctor about medicines that help bind the bile
  • avoid foods that you find make diarrhoea worse, such as caffeine in tea and coffee, and spicy and fatty foods
  • wear a small pad in your pants – it may feel strange but might help to prevent embarrassing moments in public and so help you feel more confident
  • get a 'Just can't wait card' from the Bladder and Bowel Community – the card allows holders access to toilets in shops and pubs etc

Snacks and small meals

You may find it easier to have lots of small meals through the day, rather than sticking to the traditional 3 meals a day.

It is a good idea to have plenty of nutritious snacks to hand that you can have whenever you feel like eating. If you can manage it, it's best to choose full fat versions of yoghurts and puddings, so that you get the most calories.

You could try:

  • yoghurts or fromage frais
  • other soft puddings such as trifle or chocolate mousse
  • dried fruit
  • stewed or fresh fruit (bananas are high in calories)
  • nuts
  • cheese
  • instant soups (make up with milk to boost calories)
  • cereal
  • milky drinks
  • flapjacks

Some of these ideas may not suit your digestion but they might be worth a try. If in doubt, check with your dietitian.

Try to think of quick ways of having the things you like to eat. If possible, get someone to prepare your favourite foods in advance and freeze them in small portions. A microwave makes defrosting and heating easier and quicker.

Nutritional supplements

If you are finding it hard to eat, there are plenty of nutritional supplements available on prescription. Some are powders you sprinkle on your food and some are drinks that are complete meals in themselves.

Sipping a nutritional supplement between meals throughout the day can really boost your calorie intake. Again, ask your doctor or dietitian about what would be best for you.

If you have diabetes, some nutritional drinks or supplements may affect your blood sugar levels. Your dietitian or specialist nurse can advise you about this.

Insulin and enzyme supplements

If you had part of your pancreas taken out, you will probably still make enough insulin. Your doctor will need to keep a very close eye on your blood sugar to make sure you don't develop diabetes.

You might not make enough digestive juices if you have gallbladder cancer or if you had part of your pancreas taken out. You usually take supplements of enzymes to help you digest fat. These usually come as capsules that you swallow.

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Last reviewed: 
13 Oct 2023
Next review due: 
13 Oct 2026

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