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Stents and bypass surgery for pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer can block the bile duct, causing jaundice. The bile duct is the tube that carries bile from the liver to the duodenum (first part of the small intestines). Bile is a fluid produced by the liver to help digestion. 

Pancreatic cancer can also block the duodenum. This will mean that food can't flow out of the stomach into the duodenum. Food will build up in the stomach, making you feel full and be sick.

If you have locally advanced or advanced pancreatic cancer it may not be possible to have surgery to remove the cancer. But you may have a stent put in or bypass surgery to relieve these symptoms.

What is a stent?

Stents are small, flexible plastic or metal tubes that are inserted into your bile duct or duodenum to relieve the blockage. A stent used to open the bile duct is called a biliary stent. A stent used to open the duodenum is called a duodenal stent.

Having a stent put in is generally a simple procedure, and your symptoms should start to improve quickly. There can be a few problems with a stent. For example, it can get blocked, move out of place, and there is a risk of an infection. But there are ways to treat these problems.

What is bypass surgery?

You may have bypass surgery if you can’t have a stent, or if a stent hasn’t worked. Sometimes, it may be done if your surgeon started surgery to remove the pancreatic cancer, but found that it wasn’t possible to remove the cancer as it had spread beyond the pancreas.

Bypass surgery for a blocked bile duct is called a choledochojejunstomy. It involves cutting the bile duct above the blockage and attaching it to the small intestines. This bypasses the blockage.

Bypass surgery for a blocked duodenum is called a gastro-jejunostomy. The surgeon will connect the stomach to the small intestines, bypassing the blockage.

Bypass surgery is a major operation, and it may take two to three months to recover.

Eating and drinking after having a stent or bypass surgery

It may take some time to build up your appetite after a stent or bypass surgery. Try starting with small amounts of food, and gradually increase the size of your meals. If you had a stent for a blocked duodenum, you will need to be careful what you eat to make sure the stent doesn’t get blocked. Read more about diet after a stent or bypass surgery.

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.

There is support available to help you cope with pancreatic cancer. You can also speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line with any questions or concerns about having a stent inserted or bypass surgery.

Questions to ask

  • Will a stent improve my symptoms?
  • Will a plastic or metal stent be used?
  • How quickly will I recover after the stent has been put in?
  • Will I need to change my diet after having a duodenal stent put in?
  • Will I see a dietitian?
  • How will a stent affect future treatment such as chemotherapy?

What are stents for pancreatic cancer?

Stent for a blocked bile duct

Stent for blocked duodenum

Are there any problems with stents?

Benefits and risks of stents

What is bypass surgery for pancreatic cancer?

Bypass surgery for a blocked bile duct

Bypass surgery for a blocked duodenum

Recovering from bypass surgery

Benefits and risks of bypass surgery

Side effects from bypass surgery

Published February 2017

Review date February 2019

Information Standard