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Surgery for operable pancreatic cancer

Surgery to completely remove the cancer is the most effective treatment for early stage pancreatic cancer that hasn’t spread outside the pancreas. This is called resectable (operable) pancreatic cancer. If you have borderline resectable pancreatic cancer it may also be possible to remove the cancer, but it depends which blood vessels are affected and how far the cancer has grown.

There are different types of surgery for pancreatic cancer, including the Whipple’s operation, pylorus-preserving pancreaticoduodenectomy, distal pancreatectomy and total pancreatectomy. They all involve removing all or part of the pancreas, and sometimes other areas around it.

Sometimes the cancer grows into or around the major veins that lie next to the head of the pancreas. In order to remove the cancer completely, the surgeon may need to remove part of the vein. This is called vein resection and reconstruction.You may be offered chemotherapy, and sometimes radiotherapy, before or after surgery to shrink the cancer. Radiotherapy may be given together with chemotherapy – this is called chemoradiotherapy.

If surgery to remove the cancer is not possible some people may have chemotherapy to control it. There are treatments to control symptoms, such as having a stent inserted or bypass surgery.

Surgery to remove pancreatic cancer is a major operation, and you will need to be fit enough to have it. There are some side effects of surgery. Removing part of your pancreas can cause problems with digesting your food, and diabetes. There are treatments to manage these.

Read about the advantages and disadvantages of surgery, including the possible side effects.

Find out more about surgery for operable pancreatic cancer in our downloadable fact sheet below. You can also order hard copies of the fact sheet via our publications order form.

Surgery to remove pancreatic cancer is a major operation and can affect you emotionally as well as physically. There is support available, and you can speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line with any questions or concerns.

Is surgery an option for you, or have you had it? Our Side by Side service gives you the chance to speak to a trained volunteer who has been in a similar situation. Read more about Side by Side.

You can also read about other people’s experiences of surgery in our Real Life Stories

Questions to ask

  • Can I have surgery to remove the cancer?
  • Is the cancer affecting any major blood vessels?
  • Will I have chemotherapy or radiotherapy before or after my surgery?
  • Are there any clinical trials that I can take part in?
  • Which type of operation do I need?
  • How much of my pancreas will be removed?
  • Will any other parts of my body be removed?
  • Will I need to take any medication after surgery?
  • Where can I get support to help me cope?

Who can have surgery to remove pancreatic cancer?

Types of surgery to remove pancreatic cancer

Advantages and disadvantages of pancreatic cancer surgery

How is surgery carried out?

Recovering from surgery

Side effects of surgery for pancreatic cancer

Check-ups after surgery

Peer support for people having surgery

Published February 2017

Review date February 2019

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