Managing jaundice if you have pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer can cause jaundice, but there are ways to treat it.

Jaundice turns your skin or eyes yellow. It can also make you feel itchy and causes pale poo and dark urine. Sometimes jaundice is a symptom of pancreatic cancer before it is diagnosed – read more about this.

What causes jaundice?

Pancreatic cancer causes jaundice by blocking the bile duct. The bile duct is the tube that takes bile from the liver to the duodenum (which is the first part of the small intestine).

Bile is a fluid which the liver makes to help you digest food. Bilirubin is a yellow substance that is found in bile. It’s the waste product of the normal break down of old red blood cells. If there is a build-up of bilirubin in the blood, you may develop jaundice.

How is jaundice treated?

If you have jaundice and your cancer can be removed with surgery, you should be offered surgery which will treat the jaundice.

If you have jaundice but aren’t fit enough yet for surgery, or you can’t have surgery, your doctors may put a stent into your bile duct. A stent is a small tube. It should open up the blockage and improve your symptoms. Read more about stents to treat jaundice.

For some people the jaundice should start to improve in a couple of days. It usually takes 2-3 weeks for the jaundice to go completely.

If you are having chemotherapy, this will be delayed until the jaundice has been treated.

Questions about jaundice?

Speak to your doctor or nurse if you have symptoms of jaundice. It is important that it is treated.

If you have any questions about jaundice and how it’s managed, you can also speak to our specialist nurses on our Support Line.

Speak to our nurses
Specialist nurse Rachel

Published August 2020

Review date August 2022