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Stents and bypass surgery for pancreatic cancer

Two of the problems that you might have with pancreatic cancer are jaundice and sickness from a blockage in your intestine. Stents and bypass surgery are used to treat these symptoms.

What is jaundice?

Jaundice is when your skin and the whites of your eyes turn yellow. This happens when you get a build up of a yellow substance called bilirubin in your body. Bilirubin is found in bile, which is a liquid that your liver makes to help you digest food. Sometimes, pancreatic cancer can block the tube which carries the bile. This tube is called the bile duct. If this tube gets blocked, the bilirubin builds up and you may get jaundice.

Sickness caused by a blockage

After you eat, your food goes from your stomach into your duodenum which is the first part of the intestine. That is where it gets broken down (digested). Sometimes pancreatic cancer can block your duodenum. This means that after you eat, the food builds up in your stomach and makes you feel and be sick and lose weight.

What is a stent?

Stents are small plastic or metal tubes that are put into the bile duct or duodenum. Your symptoms should start to feel better soon after having a stent put in.

  • You may have a stent put in to treat your symptoms if you can’t have surgery to remove the cancer.
  • If you have jaundice and your cancer can be removed by surgery but you aren’t yet fit enough to have the operation, you may have a stent put into the bile duct before the surgery.

There can be problems with a stent. For example, it can get blocked or move out of place, and there is a risk of getting an infection. But your doctor or nurse can treat these problems if they happen.

What is bypass surgery?

Bypass surgery is surgery to treat your symptoms. It doesn’t remove the cancer.

  • If the doctors start an operation to remove the cancer but find that it has spread, they can’t take it out. They may do bypass surgery to help your symptoms.
  • You may have bypass surgery for a blocked duodenum if your cancer can’t be taken out by surgery.
  • If you have a blocked bile duct and your cancer can’t be taken out with surgery, you will probably have a stent rather than bypass surgery.

When you have bypass surgery for a blocked bile duct, the surgeon cuts the bile duct above where it is blocked and fixes it to the small intestine. This gets around the blockage.

When you have bypass surgery for a blocked duodenum, the surgeon connects the stomach to the intestine, getting around the blockage.

Bypass surgery is a big operation, and it may take you two to three months to recover from the surgery. You may have some side effects after the surgery, like pain and tiredness. Speak to your doctor or nurse about side effects.

Eating and drinking after having a stent or bypass surgery

It may take some time before you start to feel like eating more after having a stent put in or bypass surgery. Try starting with small amounts of food, and then start to eat a bit more over time.

If you had a stent for a blocked duodenum, you will need to be careful what you eat. This is to make sure the stent doesn’t get blocked.

Find out more about stents and bypass surgery by downloading our fact sheet below. You can also order all our publications on our publications order form

Talk to your doctor or nurse if you have any questions. You can also speak to our nurses on our free Support Line with any questions or worries you might have about a stent or bypass surgery.

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Questions to ask your doctor or nurse

You might want to write down any questions you have for your doctor to take with you. You may also want to take someone with you when you see your doctor. They can write down the answers to any questions you have and any important information.

  • Will a stent or bypass surgery help me feel better?
  • Will a plastic or metal stent be used?
  • How quickly will I feel better after the stent has been put in? Or after having bypass surgery?
  • Will I need to change what I eat after having a stent put in?
  • Will I see someone who will help me with problems with diet and eating?
  • How will a stent or bypass surgery affect any future treatment such as chemotherapy?

More information on stents and bypass surgery

What are stents and when are they used?

Stent for a blocked bile duct

Stent for blocked duodenum

Are there any problems with stents?

What is bypass surgery and when is it used?

What does bypass surgery involve?

Side effects from bypass surgery

Diet after a stent or bypass surgery

Updated February 2019

Review date February 2021

Information Standard