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Side effects of surgery for pancreatic cancer

Surgery for pancreatic cancer can cause different side effects. These will affect everyone differently, and you may not get all the side effects. If you are worried about side effects, talk to your doctor or nurse.

Short term side effects


It is normal to feel some pain and discomfort after surgery for pancreatic cancer, and you will have pain relief.

If you get sudden abdominal pain after you leave hospital, or any pain gets worse, call your surgical team as soon as possible.


You may have no bowel movments or find it difficult to empty your bowels (consitipation) for several days after surgery. Let your doctor or nurse know about this. Drink plenty of fluids and move about as much as possible.

Opioid drugs, such as morphine, are often used to treat pain after surgery. But they can cause constipation, and you may need to take medicine called laxatives to help with this.

Feeling sick

Some of the medications, including pain relief medications and antibiotics, may make you feel sick. You will be prescribed anti-sickness medication to manage sickness. If you start being sick after you leave hospital speak to your surgical team as soon as possible.

Surgical leaks (fistula)

After surgery there is the risk of a leak from where the pancreas, bile duct or stomach are joined to the bowel.

Any leaks usually happen while you’re still in hospital, and often heals on their own. If it happens after you have left hospital, you may have a very sharp pain either across your stomach or in the middle of your back. You may also have a high temperature. Speak to your nurse or medical team immediately – you need to have another procedure.

Longer term side effects

Problems with digesting your food and diabetes

As some types of surgery will involve removing part of your pancreas, you may have problems digesting food, which can cause symptoms such as weight loss and bowel problems. Removing part of your pancreas can also cause diabetes.

Discomfort and pain

You may still feel some discomfort and pain a few weeks or months after your operation. This is normal, but if your pain is severe it could mean that you have an infection, so contact your surgical team straight away. If the pain is really bad or you have a high temperature or feel generally unwell, go to your nearest accident and emergency department.

If you have any new pain or symptoms, or your pain is not helped by regular medication, speak to your nurse, hospital team or GP immediately. Read about managing pain caused by pancreatic cancer.


Many people with pancreatic cancer can feel very tired and have less energy to do the things they normally do.

There are things you can do to help manage tiredness , such as going for a short walk, and gradually increasing how much you do.

Questions to ask

  • Who can I see for help with managing side effects?
  • How will surgery affect eating and digestion?
  • Would pancreatic enzyme supplements help with my diet symptoms?
  • How do I take pancreatic enzyme supplements?
  • What should I do if my side effects don’t improve?
  • How should I manage my diabetes?

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

Check-ups after surgery

Back to Surgery for operable pancreatic cancer

Published February 2017

Review date February 2019

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