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Advantages and disadvantages of pancreatic cancer surgery

If surgery for pancreatic cancer is an option for you, think about the advantages and disadvantages. What may be an advantage for one person may not be for someone else.


  • The main advantage of surgery is that it is the most effective treatment for removing your cancer, and can help you to live longer.
  • Some of your symptoms such as jaundice, pain and problems with digestion may improve after surgery. 
  • If the cancer does come back, you may be able to have further treatment with chemotherapy to control your symptoms.


  • Pancreatic surgery is major surgery and as with any major operation there are risks involved
  • You will need to stay in hospital afterwards to recover. This may be between a week to two weeks if there are no problems, but could be much longer if there are problems 
  • Recovering from this type of surgery usually takes about six months. For some people it could take up to a year to fully recover 
  • You may get side effects from surgery, such as problems digesting your food and diabetes. But the cancer usually causes these symptoms even if you don’t have the surgery

Risks of surgery

Surgery for pancreatic cancer can be complicated, and there are some risks.

  • Bleeding and the possible need for a blood transfusion. Any operation has a risk of bleeding. Your medical team will manage this. 
  • Getting an infection such as a chest or wound infection – you will be given antibiotics to reduce this risk.
  • There is a risk of a leak from where the pancreas, bile duct or stomach are joined to the bowel. These leaks often settle without needing further treatment.
  • General complications from anaesthetic. There is the risk of complications linked to having a general anaesthetic, such as having an allergic reaction to it. But these are very rare.

Speak to your surgeon or nurse about the benefits and risks of your type of surgery and how they will monitor you for these and manage them. 

Who can have surgery?

Types of surgery to remove pancreatic cancer

How is surgery carried out?

Recovering from surgery

Side effects of surgery for pancreatic cancer

Check-ups after surgery

Back to Surgery for operable pancreatic cancer

Published February 2017

Review date February 2019

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