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What are stents and when are they used for pancreatic cancer?

Stents are small metal or plastic tubes. If you have pancreatic cancer, you might have a stent put into your bile duct if you have jaundice. This is called a biliary stent. Or you might have a stent put into the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine) to treat sickness. This is called a duodenal stent. Sometimes stents may need to be put into both the bile duct and the duodenum, but this is not usually done at the same time.

  • You may have a biliary or a duodenal stent put in to treat your symptoms if your pancreatic cancer is inoperable, which means that it can’t be removed by surgery.
  • 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 biliary stent put in before the surgery.

Metal stents

Metal stents are used most often because they are wider than plastic stents and can expand. This means they don’t get blocked so easily, so there is less chance of problems than with plastic stents. You may have a metal stent if you are having chemotherapy because they last longer than plastic stents and there is less chance of infection. This helps chemotherapy to work more effectively.

Plastic stents

Plastic stents are often used in the short term, such as before surgery to remove pancreatic cancer, or during tests to see if you can have surgery.

Plastic stents can get blocked after a few months. This is often because bacteria and tiny bits from the bile build up inside the stent. Plastic stents are usually replaced every three or four months. They may be replaced with a metal stent, which is much less likely to get blocked.

Advantages and disadvantages of stents

Speak to your doctor or nurse about the pros and cons of having a stent put in.


  • The stent should open up the bile duct or duodenum and treat your symptoms.
  • You should start feeling better quickly, normally within a couple of days of having the stent put in.
  • Treating symptoms may mean you can start or continue treatment for the cancer.


  • The stent may get blocked and the symptoms you had before may come back.
  • There is a chance of an infection after having a stent put in. Infections can be treated with antibiotics.
  • There is a small chance of your stent moving after it has been put in. If this happens it may need to be replaced.
  • There is a small risk of complications such as a hole in the duodenum or bleeding.

More information on stents and bypass surgery

Stent for a blocked bile duct

Stent for blocked duodenum

Problems with stents

What is bypass surgery and when is it used for pancreatic cancer?

Diet after a stent or bypass surgery

Updated February 2019

Review date February 2021

Information Standard