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Recovering from pancreatic cancer surgery

You may spend between one and two weeks in hospital after your pancreatic cancer surgery. This will depend on how well you recover and whether you can eat and drink normally. You may worry about going home after having lots of support in the hospital, but you will be given the details of someone to contact if there’s a problem. This is usually a specialist nurse.

What support will I need at home?

When you first go home you’ll need to take things easy as you will get tired. You will need help with things such as shopping, cooking and cleaning. Before your operation it’s worth asking family and friends if they can help.

Gradually increase what you do and make sure that you move around during the day – even if it’s just around the house to begin with. This can help with your recovery and reduce the risk of blood clots. You should find that you start to feel stronger and more active each week.

If you need some extra help at home, tell your nurse. They should be able to arrange for social services to look at what help you need. It’s best if this can be arranged before you leave hospital. Most people manage well at home and don’t need extra help.

Longer-term recovery

Coming to terms with changes to your body such as scars and weight loss can take time. Be aware that once the wound has completely healed the scar will gradually fade.

Talk to your nurse or medical team if you have any questions or worries about any changes to your body. Make sure you ask them about any problems with eating and weight loss. You might also find it helpful to talk to others affected by pancreatic cancer. Macmillan Cancer Support have information about body image and cancer.

“I didn’t find it hard to learn to live with the scars – seeing them reminds me how lucky I have been. I did find it hard to adjust to the weight loss and lack of muscle tone – my clothes were hanging off me.”

It’s fine to have sex once your wound is fully healed and you feel well enough. If you are worried about it, talk to your partner or GP.

Regular gentle physical activity, such as walking, can help your physical and emotional recovery. Try setting yourself a small target every day and gradually increase how much you do. Your medical team can give you advice about the most suitable type of exercise for you.

“It took a lot longer to recover my fitness, energy and weight than I imagined, particularly as I had been so fit and active beforehand. You can’t just pick up where you left off.”

Driving after surgery. Before you leave hospital check with your doctor how soon you can drive. Contact your insurer to let them know about your operation and follow any guidance on whether it affects your driving insurance.

It’s important to think about safety. For example, can you do an emergency stop. Some painkillers may make you sleepy or affect your sight when driving at night. If you develop diabetes and are taking insulin you will need to tell the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency), and you won’t be able to drive until they tell you that you can.

Going back to work may take at least three months, but this will depend on the type of work you do and whether you are having chemotherapy after surgery. Talk to your employer about your options. For example, you may be able to work reduced hours to begin with. Read more about work and money.

“I went back immediately, with some flexi-time and home working. Psychologically I felt it showed my recovery, but in hindsight it was too much too soon.” 

“Recovery is not a race and you don’t have to prove anything, so be kind to yourself, listen to your body and take each day as it comes.”

What happens after your operation

Read about the side effects of surgery and how these are managed

Find out about check-ups after surgery

Peer support for people having surgery

Published April 2019

Review date March 2021

Information Standard