Login to Pancreatic Cancer UK

What does bypass surgery involve?

Bypass surgery to treat symptoms of pancreatic cancer is a big operation and usually takes two to four hours. This depends on your cancer and the type of surgery you are having.

Before the surgery

You won’t be able to eat anything for at least six hours before your operation. You will be able to drink water up to two hours before your surgery. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have diabetes as this might affect your care before surgery.

What happens during the operation?

For a blocked bile duct, the surgeon will cut the bile duct above the blockage and connect it to the small intestine. This allows the bile to flow again.

Before bypass surgery for a blocked bile duct

Diagram of Before Bypass Surgery For A Blocked Bile Duct

After bypass surgery for a blocked bile duct

Diagram After Bypass Surgery For A Blocked Bile Duct

For a blocked duodenum, the surgeon will connect the stomach to the small intestine. This allows food to pass from the stomach into the small intestine, and should stop you feeling sick.

Before bypass surgery for a blocked duodenum

Diagram Before Bypass Surgery For A Blocked Duodenum 

After bypass surgery for a blocked duodenum

Diagram After Bypass Surgery For A Blocked Duodenum 

The operation may be open surgery, when one large cut (incision) is made in the tummy. In some hospitals you might be able to have this done by keyhole (laparoscopic) surgery.

With keyhole surgery, the surgeon makes several very small cuts (about 1-2 cms) in the tummy. A long thin tube with a camera on the end (called a laparoscope) is put in through one hole. The surgeon then inserts surgical instruments through the other holes, guided by the images from the camera.

After your bypass surgery

You will have some tubes or drains put in during the operation, which are usually removed in the first couple of days. These may include:

  • a tube in a vein in your arm or neck for fluids or medication
  • drains in your tummy to drain off any fluids
  • a thin tube called a catheter through your urethra (the tube you pass urine through) into your bladder, to drain urine.

After the operation, you may have some pain and will have painkillers for this. You should be able to drink and eat soft foods, and after a few days you may be able to eat solid foods. But this may depend on how well you are recovering from the operation.

You will probably spend four to ten days in hospital if there are no problems, any pain is well controlled and you are eating again.

Check-ups after surgery

You will normally have a check-up appointment two to six weeks after you go home from hospital. The hospital team will check your wound. They will also discuss any more treatment that you might need. For example, some people may have chemotherapy.

Recovering after bypass surgery

Bypass surgery is major surgery and it may take around two to three months to recover. You will feel tired and weak at first, and your wound will need time to heal. 

The surgery may help to treat some symptoms but it won’t cure the cancer. You may be able to have chemotherapy to control the growth of the cancer.

Gentle physical activity, such as walking, may help you recover from the surgery. Your medical team can give you advice about the best type of exercise to do.

If you have any questions about bypass surgery, speak to your doctor or nurse. You can also speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line.

More information on bypass surgery

What is bypass surgery and when is it used?

What does bypass surgery involve?

Side effects from bypass surgery

Diet after bypass surgery

Updated February 2019

Review date February 2021

Information Standard