Weight loss leading to cachexia is associated with poor treatment response and reduced survival in pancreatic cancer patients. We aim to identify indicators that allow for early detection that will advance our understanding of cachexia and will support targeted anti-cachexia therapies. A total of fifty pancreatic cancer patients were analysed for skeletal muscle and visceral adipose tissue (VAT) changes using computed tomography (CT) scans. These changes were related to physical characteristics, secondary disease states and treatment parameters. Overall, patients lost 1·72 (
sd3·29) kg of muscle and 1·04 ( sd1·08) kg of VAT during the disease trajectory (413 ( sd213) d). After sorting patients into tertiles by rate of VAT and muscle loss, patients losing VAT at > − 0·40 kg/100 d had poorer survival outcomes compared with patients with < − 0·10 kg/100 d of VAT loss ( P= 0·020). Patients presenting with diabetes at diagnosis demonstrated significantly more and accelerated VAT loss compared with non-diabetic patients. In contrast, patients who were anaemic at the first CT scan lost significantly more muscle tissue and at accelerated rates compared with non-anaemic patients. Accelerated rates of VAT loss are associated with reduced survival. Identifying associated features of cachexia, such as diabetes and anaemia, is essential for the early detection of cachexia and may facilitate the attenuation of complications associated with cachexia.