If you can have surgery to remove the cancer

This information is for people who have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and can have surgery to remove the cancer.

If you have been told that surgery to remove your cancer may be possible, you may have been diagnosed with stage 1 cancer. This is early, localised pancreatic cancer.

Or you may have been diagnosed with stage 2 cancer. This means that the cancer may have grown larger. It may have spread to a small number of lymph nodes near the pancreas. But it hasn’t spread to large blood vessels near the pancreas. If you have stage 2 cancer, you might be able to have surgery, but this depends on how far the cancer has spread.

If you can have surgery, your doctor may call your cancer operable or resectable cancer. Read more about your treatment options if you have early pancreatic cancer below.

Our specialist nurse, Nicci, explains what this means and where you can get support. Andrew shares his experience of getting this diagnosis and how he coped.

If your cancer is close to major blood vessels

Occasionally the cancer may grow very close to major blood vessels near the pancreas. You may be able to have surgery, but this depends on which blood vessels are affected by the cancer, and how close the cancer has grown to the blood vessels.

This is called borderline resectable pancreatic cancer – although your doctor may not call it this. They may just talk to you about your treatment options. Surgeons may class this as either stage 2 or stage 3 cancer.

Stage 3 pancreatic cancer is usually locally advanced cancer. If you have locally advanced cancer, it won’t usually be possible to remove it with surgery. You may be offered chemotherapy, sometimes with radiotherapy, to shrink the cancer,  slow down its growth and control symptoms. For a small number of people, this may make surgery possible.

Read our booklet for people just diagnosed

If you have been told you can have surgery to remove the cancer, download our booklet: Pancreatic cancer that can be removed by surgery. A guide if you have just been diagnosed.

You can also order a printed copy.

Order the booklet
Newly diagnosed booklet

What are my treatment options if I have early pancreatic cancer?

If it’s an option for you, surgery to completely remove the cancer is the most effective treatment for early pancreatic cancer. You will usually be offered chemotherapy after surgery, to reduce the chances of the cancer coming back.

Clinical trials are carefully controlled medical research studies involving people. You could ask your medical team whether there are any clinical trials that you could take part in. Most trials in pancreatic cancer aim to find better treatments, including better ways of using surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

What are my treatment options if I have borderline resectable cancer?

If your cancer has grown very close to major blood vessels near your pancreas, your doctors will look carefully at your scan results. They will try to work out if surgery is possible. But it can be hard to tell whether it’s possible to remove it.

You may be able to have surgery. It depends which blood vessels are affected by the cancer, and how close the cancer has grown to them.

You may be offered chemotherapy on its own first. Some people then have chemotherapy with radiotherapy (chemoradiotherapy). This can sometimes shrink the cancer enough to make surgery possible. You will have scans before, during and at the end of your treatment to check how well it has worked and whether surgery may be possible.

Different medical teams may have different opinions about whether surgery is possible. You can ask for second opinion from a different medical team if you want one.

Read more about surgery when the cancer is close to major blood vessels.

Whatever your options, treatment is your decision. You don’t have to decide anything straight away. You may be offered another appointment if you need it to discuss any more questions you have.

Get tailored information about your diagnosis

If you or a loved one have just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, our emails can help you get the information and support you need. The emails are tailored to the diagnosis and provide key information over several weeks.

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Questions about your diagnosis?

You will probably have lots of questions about your diagnosis or treatment options. Ask your doctor or nurse any questions you have – they are there to support you.

You can also speak to our specialist nurses on our Support Line about any questions or concerns.

Speak to our nurses
Specialist nurse Rachel

Questions to ask your doctor or nurse

  • What does my diagnosis mean?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • Is surgery possible?
  • Will I have chemotherapy after surgery?
  • Are there any clinical trials that would be suitable for me?
  • What should I do if my symptoms get worse while I am waiting for treatment?
  • How can I manage my symptoms?
  • Will the treatment I’m having help relieve symptoms?
  • Who should I talk to if I get any new symptoms?
  • What happens next?

Managing symptoms and side effects of pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer can cause symptoms, and the treatments can cause side effects. Not everyone will have the same symptoms or side effects.

It’s important to talk to your medical team about any symptoms as they can help you with managing them. Getting treatment for symptoms can improve how you feel, both physically and emotionally.

What symptoms and side effects might I get if I have pancreatic cancer?

Here are some of the most common symptoms of pancreatic cancer and side effects of treatment.

Speak to your doctor or nurse about any symptoms you have – they can help to manage them. You can also speak to our specialist nurses on our Support Line with any questions about symptoms.

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It helped me to try and keep as fit and healthy as possible while dealing with symptoms, so I took walks and ate sensibly.

Read other people's stories

Read other people’s experiences of being diagnosed with early pancreatic cancer and having surgery.

Stories about operable cancer
Karen Stead

Order our newly diagnosed pack

Order our newly diagnosed pack to help you understand your diagnosis and treatment options

Order the newly diagnosed pack
Newly diagnosed information pack

Published November 2022

To be reviewed November 2025